MLK Community Hospital Draws Praise

A year and a half after its grand opening, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors commended the staff at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital for providing such high quality care and for its efficient operation. The hospital has become one of the busiest in Los Angeles County, and is also drawing heartfelt praise from patients in an area the federal government had deemed medically underserved.

“We’re now on track to have 75,000 emergency department visits this year and it’s still going up – that’s twice what we projected prior to opening,” Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the hospital’s chief executive, testified before the Board of Supervisors.

“This is one of the busiest emergency departments in the County, despite the fact that we’re a small community hospital,” she added. “We have about 25 to 45 paramedic runs a day now.”

Dr. Batchlor said the recent flu season also brought in a surge of patients, adding, “We are completely full.”

mlk4With leadership from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the 131-bed hospital opened in August 2016, promising compassionate, innovative and quality care to the residents of South Los Angeles – regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Its grand opening ceremony came eight years after the closure of troubled King/Drew Medical Center on the same medical campus in Willowbrook.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas congratulated the hospital administrators and staff, which currently numbers about 1,100. Dr. Batchlor noted 80 percent of the staff belongs to minority populations and, thanks to a local hiring preference policy, more than 50 percent of the staff lives within seven miles of the hospital.

“There’s nothing but good news here,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at the Board meeting, which he chaired. “(The hospital administrators and staff) have done what we would have hoped, which is to open that hospital, serve patients well and hire a workforce that reflects the composition of the patients.”

At the Board meeting, Dr. Batchlor read aloud a few messages from patients at the hospital. “I found peace here,” she quoted one as saying. A second patient said, “I was scared when I arrived and even the doctor in the E.R. made me feel safe – so glad to have had them.” A third patient added, “Thank you for giving our community a great, great hospital.”

Supervisors Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger all offered congratulations to the hospital administrators and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “There’s no question that what we’re seeing today is a direct result of your hands-on commitment to the community,” she said.

The County’s Health Agency director, Dr. Mitch Katz, said the success of the hospital was due in part to the Affordable Care Act, which about 1.5 million County residents depend on for health insurance coverage. He warned against efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, saying “We’re all concerned that major changes in the Medicaid expansion or the elimination of the (health insurance) exchanges will turn numbers back to where half of the people coming into MLK Community Hospital and others will be uninsured again.”

Marching for the Right to Healthcare

Kingdom Day 2017

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for preserving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while marching with dozens of Los Angeles County healthcare workers at the Kingdom Day Parade celebrating the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kingdom Day 2017-5

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“(Dr. King) stood for healthcare as a right, not a privilege,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas declared as he walked the entire two-mile parade route brandishing a sign that said “Obamacare Works.” He noted 4.8 million Californians – including 1.5 million residents of Los Angeles County – could lose their health insurance coverage if President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation is repealed.

“We must oppose all efforts to repeal the ACA, especially its provisions which expanded health insurance coverage,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Certainly, any proposal to repeal without a replacement is reckless – it would be like blowing up a bridge while people are still on it.”

Kingdom Day 2017-2

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“If all or parts of the ACA are repealed, I support alternatives which would minimize the number of uninsured California residents and maximize federal funding with which to serve state residents,” he added.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas marched in the parade alongside the County’s Health Agency director Dr. Mitch Katz, plus dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners in their white lab coats.

“As a doctor, I know that the ACA has been critical for patients receiving the care they need,” Dr. Katz said. “Loss of the ACA is a loss of health and a guarantee of greater illness.”

An estimated 200,000 people lined the streets of South Los Angeles for the 32nd Annual Kingdom Day Parade, with the theme, “Now More than Ever, We All Must Work Together.” Billed as the nation’s largest and oldest Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, the parade featured brass bands, descendants of the Tuskegee Airmen, Korean and Aztec dancers, clowns, and many more. It started at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Western Ave., and ended at the Freedom Fair festival at Leimert Park.


Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Issues Call to Action At 25th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 25th anniversary of the Empowerment Congress, a national model for civic engagement, by urging all citizens to continue the fight against homelessness, oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and be vigilant against efforts to undermine their rights.

“Together, we have harnessed community advocacy and activism to influence government policy on a range of complex issues,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the nearly 1,500 people who attended the Empowerment Congress summit at USC. “Now, as we work to address the most defining civic issue of our time – homelessness – we must further strengthen our partnership.”

Voters in the March 7 election will consider Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that would raise about $355 million annually over a decade to provide rental assistance, subsidized healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatments and other services to help people get off – and stay off – the streets.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said plans to undo the Affordable Care Act would be similar to “taking 30 million people off life support” across the U.S., including 1.5 million in Los Angeles County. He added, “It is imprudent from a fiscal perspective, impolitic from governance perspective, and inhumane.”

During the plenary session, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, who has been nominated to serve as California’s Attorney General, vowed to the crowd, “I stand with you.” Paraphrasing First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán added, “Don’t be afraid, be empowered.” Meanwhile, NextGen Climate president Tom Steyer said, “Civic engagement is the bedrock of our democracy.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn described the Empowerment Congress as the forerunner of the neighborhood council movement and “fertile ground for passion and progress.” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stressed the urgent need to work together for change, saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in empower.”

The plenary session included an original theatrical performance by the Robey Theatre Company that traced the origin and evolution of the Empowerment Congress.

Founded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest in Watts, the Empowerment Congress is a partnership among local residents and community leaders, as well as representatives of neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and others. It has several committees that meet throughout the year to discuss various issues, and an annual summit with a plenary session and workshops that regularly draw about 1,500 people.


Sobering Center Opens in Skid Row


Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row.   (Photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrated the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row, the first facility of its kind in Los Angeles County, which will begin accepting patients on Jan. 2.

bca_4043“This Sobering Center will help those struggling with alcoholism without criminalizing them or having them languish in hospital waiting rooms,” he said during the ceremony. “The staff here will help them sober up and link them to interventions that break the destructive cycle of streets, jails, and hospitals.”

Located at 640 S. Maple Street in downtown Los Angeles, the sobering center will be open 24 hours a day, with the capacity to house and stabilize about 50 people at any given time. It will serve predominantly homeless intoxicated individuals who might otherwise be picked up by law enforcement for petty crimes and/or those who might otherwise be transported by first responders to a hospital emergency room for inebriation.

“This is more than a center. This is a new way of life,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the grand opening. “Yes it will save money. But sometimes in government you do things because they are the right thing to do.”

bca_4143The sobering center is expected to accommodate about 8,000 visits a year by roughly 2,000 individuals. Once they have sobered up, they would be linked to substance abuse treatments, housing and other services. The County partnered with Exodus Recovery Inc. to provide mental health and substance abuse disorder services on site.

“I truly believe that the Sobering Center can change lives because they can get the help they need in order to change their lives like I am doing now, with the help of Exodus,” said Ida Jimenez, who struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction while homeless on Skid Row.

‘“I now deal with life on life’s terms and now have housing, thanks to people who care, like those at Exodus and at the Sobering Center,” she said at the press conference. “The people out here (on Skid Row) are not bad people, they are just stuck not knowing what to do. With the help of the Sobering Center, they can get sober and get the help they desperately need.”

bcb_3933In the past, the Los Angeles Fire Department transported severely intoxicated individuals from Skid Row to the LAC+USC Medical Center, then watched over them until hospital staff could admit them, a process that could take several hours. During that waiting period, those firefighters and paramedics were unable to respond to other calls.

Besides tying up scarce public safety and medical resources at great cost to taxpayers, this does not provide lasting intervention for chronic alcoholics.

The 9,500-sq. ft. sobering center, created on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, is named after the late founder of Exodus Recovery, Dr. David L. Murphy, who dedicated his life to helping the sickest, most marginalized and disadvantaged members of society.


Using Healthcare in the Fight Against Homelessness

Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for Health Center Week, with the theme, “State of Emergency: Creating Solutions to the Homeless Epidemic,” held at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.

This week, we take time to commemorate National Health Center Week and recognize community health centers for delivering comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition, we shine a spotlight on healthcare for the homeless.

I will repeat today what I have said before: Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the county of Los Angeles. It is also a civil rights issue and a human rights issue.

As you approach downtown, the skyline provides a stark illustration of the income and wealth gap in our region. Mere steps away from dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find human beings living in utter squalor, subjected to unspeakable living situations.

Healthcare plays a significant role in righting these wrongs.

Yesterday, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital – the one-year anniversary of delivering on a promise.

A critical part of delivering healthcare to the homeless involves making people whole again, and making fractured communities whole again. The County is taking steps to implement the “Whole Person Care” approach, which integrates health, behavioral health, and social services.

IMG_1416In Skid Row, under the auspices of the Department of Health Services, the County is spearheading an integrated approach to engage, assist and house the 2,000 persons living on the streets of Skid Row. This integrated program is called C3 to highlight the collaboration between County, City and Community.

Each C3 integrated team has a nurse, substance use counselor, mental health clinician, an outreach worker with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and a peer for the homeless, someone who has experienced what they are experiencing now. Over the last five months, the four C3 integrated teams have conducted daily outreach and assisted over 600 unsheltered homeless residents in Skid Row.

  • 311 persons have been connected to interim housing
  • 276 have been assigned to permanent supportive housing
  • 44 people have received keys to move into their own homes

We are going to need additional ongoing, annual funds in our fight against homelessness. Poll after poll has shown that homelessness is a top concern among the electorate. Poll after poll shows that LA County voters are willing to support a homeless revenue measure at the ballot.

We know that we need at least $450 million a year (not counting construction costs) to help the 47,000 men, women and children who find themselves homeless in our County. What looks most promising is a 1/4-cent general sales tax, which would generate $355 million a year, while costing the average Angeleno just $1 a month. That $355 million a year would get us very close to the target. It’s time to get serious so that we can be accountable to the voting public, who are expecting us to act now.

The Board unanimously voted to send a letter urging the Governor to declare a State of Emergency. The California State Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a House Resolution urging the Governor to do the same. We expect the California State Senate to follow suit shortly. Soon there will be two resolutions on the Governor’s desk urging him to acknowledge the reality of 115,000 homeless persons in California.

If a fire had caused 115,000 persons to be homeless, the State would spring into action. It is time to acknowledge the slow-burning fire – the community health disaster, the public health disaster, the mental health disaster, the justice disaster, the employment disaster, the wealth gap disaster – that is consuming the lives of thousands of men, women and children. Let’s ensure that the Governor signs this year, which would trigger $500 million in statewide interim funds, while we work on securing ongoing local revenue.

The County has been circulating an online petition asking the Governor to declare a homelessness emergency in California – and it has garnered almost 25,000 signatures. If you haven’t signed already, please sign today and circulate this important petition within your networks.

We at the Board of Supervisors are working diligently to scale up the County’s response to homelessness – and there is more to come – but we cannot do it without you. Our goal is a Los Angeles where homelessness is rare and brief. Thank you for your partnership, and thank you for your leadership.