Mental Health Conference Promotes Engaging and Empowering Communities

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas addresses 1200 attendees at the 2019 African American Mental Health Conference on February 28, 2019. All photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first black woman president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas made opening remarks to a packed room of 1,200 people attending the 2019 African American Mental Health Conference held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles.  Every year, the conference brings together mental health and allied professionals, policy makers, consumers and stakeholders to improve awareness regarding mental health issues and its impact on families and communities. This year’s conference, hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health with the goal of “Engaging and Empowering Communities through Education, Advocacy, and Action,” featured  keynote addresses by Altha J. Stewart, M.D. and Bryant T. Marks, Sr., Ph.D., two internationally renowned scholars and practitioners in the field of mental health and social issues that concern African Americans.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ remarks to the 1,200 attendees are below:

“Our theme today is “Engaging and Empowering Communities through Education, Advocacy, and Action.” As you know, the Empowerment Congress is an experiment in civic engagement that I started many years ago. Together, we have harnessed community advocacy and activism to influence government policy on a range of complex issues – so engaging and empowering communities is a good thing!

“We had the 27th annual Empowerment Congress Summit at Charles R. Drew University this year – and we saw the physical manifestation of empowerment and engagement transforming communities. Part of the ongoing transformation of communities includes reinvigorating the Second District with state-of-the-art spaces designed for mental health recovery, wellbeing and reintegration including:

  • Behavioral Health Center: Repurposing the old MLK hospital into a first-of-its-kind interdepartmental project – designed to supply the complete arc of restorative care to promote personal recovery and community reintegration;
  • Wellbeing Center: Creating interdisciplinary, trauma-informed responses to ensure the safety and health of kids and families involved in the Child Welfare system;

    (left to right) LA County Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, LA County Mental Health Commissioner with Lived Experience Reba Stevens, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

  • Women’s Reintegration: Doubling down investments in justice-involved women who need specialized services to heal after incarceration, and opportunities to build new futures for themselves and their families;
  • CDU Psychiatric Residency Program: Creating a robust pipeline of the best and brightest doctors who will lift up and lead their own neighborhoods and DMH communities; and
  • DMH Headquarters: The ground-breaking took place in October – a capstone project incorporating a peer-run drop-in center – showcasing DMH values inside and out!

“Since we are talking about African American mental health, I should mention the public launch of a new report that examined homelessness among African Americans. Everyone should read the report and its 67 recommendations.

“If our region is to prosper, it is not only a moral mandate, it is an absolute economic imperative that all who call Los Angeles home are able to attain their full measure of dignity, self-worth and self-determination. Let’s continue to engage and empower each other and remember that Each Mind Matters and “No one is well until we are all well.”


Innovative Program Taking Big Steps to Help Patients with Diabetes


Diabetes casts a pall on the lives of more than 4 million Californians – a startling 15 percent of the state’s adult population – and communities of color are disproportionately affected.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites. They are also more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, blindness, lower extremity amputations, and death.

Besides ravaging their bodies, diabetes also ravages their wallets. People living with diabetes have more than double the medical expenses of those not stricken with the disease. And the indirect cost attributed to their lost productivity is estimated at $9.5 billion, a staggering statistic that affects our economic stability.

Throughout my 27 years of public service, I have strived to take on this public health crisis with initiatives ranging from outreach and treatment to promoting behavior change and looking to the horizon for what is next. This includes investing in American Diabetes Association multilingual awareness days and community outreach efforts, and convening the annual Care Harbor LA mega-clinic which provides about 3,000 people with primary and specialty care, including Type 2 Diabetes management and prevention. Meanwhile, the top-notch staff at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus not only treats diabetes but also works to prevent it with programs that fight obesity, a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes.

There has been progress but, as this crisis takes on another dimension, I have grown even more determined to find help for our most vulnerable constituents. I am heartened to see the work that Eli Lilly and Co. has done to help make diabetes medications more affordable. The Lilly Diabetes Solution Center, which opened just this August, provides options to people who need help paying for their insulin, including people with lower incomes, the uninsured, and the insured but paying high deductibles in a high-deductible insurance plan. Besides offering discounts, the company is also donating insulin for ultimate distribution to nearly 150 free clinics across the country.

It is important that we have tools like this in our collective arsenal to combat diabetes, a silent killer that is devastating the health of so many of our communities. We need to develop more innovative programs to defeat this public health crisis one patient at a time.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the Second District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. This article is republished with permission from the LA Sentinel.

Board of Supervisors Stands Behind the Affordable Care Act

The Board of Supervisors braced for a fight over the Affordable Care Act, days after a federal district court decision in Texas v. United States found the landmark law to be invalid. The Board voted to support California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s efforts to oppose the ruling, and instructed their own lawyers to look into legal action that would appeal the decision, either as a plaintiff or as a friend of the court.

“If you believe, like I do, that healthcare is a right, then this ruling is a step backwards,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the motion’s principal author, said. “The ACA has already withstood relentless legal and political challenges, and I am confident that justice will prevail again and this widely popular law will be upheld. We can’t let political opponents, who have failed multiple times to take down the law through the democratic process, use legal maneuvering to undermine progress.”

Since President Barack Obama signed the ACA in 2010, LA County’s uninsured rate has been cut in half, from 21 percent to 10 percent. More than 1 million residents have gained coverage through the law’s expansion of Medi-Cal – California’s Medicaid program. Several hundred thousand residents have also obtained health insurance through Covered California, the state’s commercial insurance exchange that provides subsidized coverage for individuals and families.

“The ACA has already survived more than 70 repeal attempts in Congress and scrutiny by the Supreme Court,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who served as President Obama’s Labor Secretary when the ACA was signed into law. “After eight years of nonstop attacks, repeal votes, and lawsuits, Obamacare is still here, delivering life-saving care to 20 million Americans. Today’s action reaffirms our commitment to ensure health equity and access for every County resident, especially those with preexisting conditions. Last Friday’s ruling clearly shows that Congress must either protect the ACA or produce a credible alternative that provides coverage for those with preexisting conditions and equal access to care for all.”

On Friday, Federal District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that because Congress eliminated the fine for failing to comply with the health insurance mandate specified by the ACA, the mandate is no longer permissible under Congress’s taxing power and therefore unconstitutional. He further concluded that since the individual mandate is “essential” to the ACA, the entire law was invalid. However, because the judge did not enjoin the ACA, the law’s provisions remain in effect nationwide, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has indicated there will be no changes to coverage in the 2019 plans.

Judge O’Connor’s decision has already triggered a widespread backlash, and Attorney General Becerra has declared his intention to challenge the ruling.

Latest Addition to MLK Campus Will Serve Vulnerable Children and Families

Rendering of Child  and Family Wellbeing Center planned for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus. 

In a unanimous decision, the Board of Supervisors voted to proceed with the construction of a Child and Family Wellbeing Center at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus. Slated to open in early 2020, the 55,000-sq. ft. facility will house a medical clinic for children who have experienced abuse or are in the foster system, as well as an autism clinic, child psychiatry services, and a Family Justice Center.

“Too often, children and families in challenging situations need to piece together the medical, legal, mental health and social services they need,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “The Child and Family Wellbeing Center will bring these important services together under one roof to make it easier for families in need to get back on track.”

The first floor of the new center will include a Pediatric Hub clinic that will serve as the primary care home for high-risk children. It will replace the existing Pediatric Hub clinic on the MLK Campus, which was constructed in 1974.  Los Angeles County’s network of Pediatric Hubs offers a national model for evaluating and addressing the medical needs of children in the foster care system and those who have experienced abuse.

“I am thrilled that advocacy efforts to support our communities have led to the creation of the Child and Family Wellbeing Center on the MLK Campus,” said Fred Leaf, the interim director of the LA County Health Agency. “This new state-of-the-art facility will offer a welcoming and beautiful space where children and families will be able to receive a wide range of high quality health and human services.”

On the second floor, two community organizations – the Special Needs Network and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center – will partner to serve both children in South LA who have autism spectrum disorders, as well as their families. Providers for children with autism are in short supply nationwide, particularly in urban communities.

“This will be a game-changer in the lives of thousands of kids with autism and other developmental needs,” said Areva Martin, president and co-founder of the Special Needs Network. “For too long, kids in South LA have not had access to high quality medical and developmental services in their own community. That changes with the opening of the MLK Child and Family Wellbeing Center.”

On the top floor, a Family Justice Center will provide respite for those experiencing domestic violence and other unsafe situations. There are already two such Centers in LA, one based at the LAC+USC Medical Campus and another in the San Fernando Valley. The new Center at MLK Campus will expand the program to residents in the southern part of the County. Consistent with the Center’s overall theme, the Family Justice Center will offer comprehensive medical, mental health, legal and social services all in one place.

“It is precisely during our moments of greatest challenge when we most need high quality, integrated, and holistic services,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This auspicious new facility will create such a healing environment.”

More Physicians Coming to South LA

Dr. Francisca Mata received care at the former King/Drew Hospital as a child. Now, she’s providing healthcare in the community where she grew up, completing a new medical residency program at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU).

In partnership with the Los Angeles County Health Agency, the residency programs will train a new generation of doctors to serve patients in South Los Angeles and surrounding communities. For Dr. Mata and her colleagues, the need is great and the calling is personal.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors approved startup funds to establish residency programs in both psychiatry and family medicine. Dr. Mata is part of the first class.

“We have a dramatic shortage of primary care and mental health clinicians in this nation, and this shortage is most acutely felt in communities such as South Los Angeles,”  Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “It is vital that we empower doctors-in-training to become medical leaders who promote wellness and healthcare equity in a compassionate manner.

“This residency program will create a new pipeline for our homegrown LA County physicians,” added Supervisor Hahn.

The Family Medicine residents will rotate through Department of Health Services facilities in the southern region of the County, including the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, which will be their home base for inpatient rotations.

The Psychiatry residents will focus on ambulatory services in communities that comprise the County’s Service Planning Area 6, which includes Athens, Compton, Crenshaw, Florence, Hyde Park, Lynwood, Paramount and Watts. Their primary training site will be the Kedren Community Health Center in South LA.

CDU is an accredited Graduate Medical Education Sponsoring Institution. The Family Medicine residency started off with eight residents, but is expected to enroll 24 residents by 2020. The Psychiatry residency had four residents to begin with, but is expected to enroll 16 residents by 2021.