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.


Kaiser Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Medical Offices Now Open

With the opening of the Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Medical Office Building, more than 50,000 members of the community will have greater access to innovative, high-quality care in their own neighborhood.

Photos by Henry Salazar / Board of Supervisors

“Members of the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw community will now have access to a first-rate, state-of-the-art, care experience,” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Designed with the community in mind, this new facility will offer many convenient features and services to help Kaiser Permanente members and their families live healthier lives.

The new facility will have 60 primary and specialty care doctors providing adult primary care, dermatology, diagnostic imaging, health education classes, optometry, pediatrics, and physical therapy, among other services.  A pharmacy, lab, and nurse clinic will all be housed under one roof.

Altogether, the facility spans 100,000 square feet of space, and also includes two miles of walking paths to promote health and wellness.


Sickle Cell Clinic Celebrates 1st Anniversary at MLK

All photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center celebrates the first anniversary of its Sickle Cell Disease Clinic to serve adults suffering from this painful and sometimes deadly blood condition. It is estimated there are 5,100 sickle cell patients in Southern California, most of whom are African American. Sickle cell disease can lead to numerous complications, including anemia, recurring pain episodes, respiratory troubles, and even death.

“It has been a great year for advancing treatment of sickle cell disease in the County of Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas at the clinic’s recent celebration of its first year in operation.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new medication called Endari that was developed by researcher Dr. Yutaka Niihara from LA Biomed and the Harbor UCLA faculty to help treat the condition.

Once thought of as a childhood illness, sickle cell disease is also common among adults since many with this condition are now living into adulthood thanks to improved treatments. But it can be challenging to find clinics with the expertise and resources to appropriately manage patients with this complex condition.

“Adults with sickle cell disease deserve health care providers that understand the disease, its complications, and their pain. Knowing the people who worked hard to open this clinic gives me confidence it will meet the community’s needs,” said Mary Brown, Director of the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California.

The new clinic is the first new focused facility in decades built to serve adults in Los Angeles County with sickle cell disease.

Training the Next Generation of Doctors

Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center CEO Jorge Orosco, Drew School of Medicine Dean Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, and Drew University President Dr. David Carlisle testify before the Board in support of creating the residency programs. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors has voted to create a residency program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science that will train a new generation of doctors to serve patients in South Los Angeles and beyond.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board approved up to $800,000 in startup funds to establish residency programs in both psychiatry and family medicine, with the first class scheduled in June.

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. Meanwhile, family medicine residents will do their inpatient work at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, and outpatient rotations at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center in Willowbrook.

“I believe that these residency programs will greatly help the County recruit homegrown doctors to serve our patients,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “I’m hopeful that many of these residents will also choose to stay with the County after they finish their residencies, reducing our reliance on contract physicians. ”

“Nationwide, we have a shortage of primary care clinicians, and the need is particularly acute in the communities surrounding Drew University,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “I am hopeful that many of these trainees will opt to practice locally upon their graduation.”

Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, dean of the Drew School of Medicine, said the residency programs would be a win for both patients and postgraduate medical students. “We bring not only our expertise and talent, but our dedication to developing a culturally competent physician workforce,” she said.

Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center CEO Jorge Orosco said, “This training program could, in the long term, serve as a pipeline for new attending physicians to join the medical staff at Rancho.”

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science is an accredited Graduate Medical Education Sponsoring Institution. The Family Medicine residency is scheduled to begin in June with eight residents, and is expected to enroll 24 residents by 2020. The Psychiatry residency will also begin in June with four residents and is expected to enroll 16 residents by 2021.