LA County Steps Up to Take the Lead in Sativa

The Board of Supervisors endorsed a plan for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to serve as interim administrator of the troubled Sativa Water District, and to lead the selection process for a permanent replacement water service provider in unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton.

“Sativa customers have endured decades of problems, not the least of which is brown water running through their taps, and it is long past time to identify a competent water provider that can better serve our communities,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion.

“I’m deeply offended by what has transpired, and we need to be resolved that it will not continue on our watch,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It has already taken way too much time just to restore a modicum of dignity and respect to residents who deserve a clean, clear glass of water.”

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer and Public Works Director Mark Pestrella testify in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“Access to safe, clean drinking water is a basic right and must be guaranteed to every LA County resident,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion’s co-author. “We are in the process of dissolving the long-mismanaged Sativa Water District but we cannot leave these residents in limbo. LA County is ready to step in to protect our residents and our Department of Public Works is the right choice for interim administrator.”

Testifying before the Board, DPW Director Mark Pestrella laid out his department’s short- and long-term strategies during the transition.

“I am confident that the Department of Public Works can serve the current Sativa customers in a respectable manner, with the objective of providing each customer with affordable, clean and safe water,” Director Pestrella said.

When Sativa customers first expressed alarm about brown water running through their taps in April, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed an urgency motion to conduct an investigation, take immediate steps to prevent serious risks to public health, and determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s infrastructure issues, including the failure to properly maintain its 70-year old pipes. At his direction, the County also distributed approximately 20,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton.

In June, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called on the California State Water Resources Control Board to appoint an interim administrator to exercise “vigorous oversight” of Sativa, which has been plagued for decades by allegations of mismanagement and even nepotism. In July, the Local Agency Formation Commission of Los Angeles County (LAFCO) formally initiated dissolution proceedings over Sativa.

Today’s motion reiterates the Board’s support of AB 1577, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, which would empower the California Water Resources Control Board to order Sativa to accept administrative and managerial services. The motion also calls for amendments that would allow the County to take immediate fiscal and operational management and control over Sativa as interim administrator, which appropriate financial resources from the state as well as appropriate immunities from liability. It also seeks a streamlined path for LAFCO and the County to select a long-term water service provider to replace Sativa.

Former King/Drew Medical Center Being Transformed Into Cutting-Edge MLK Behavioral Health Center

Concept photo of Mental Health Crisis Residential Treatment Center envisioned for the MLK Behavioral Health Center, courtesy of HMC Architects.

The Board of Supervisors approved transforming the long-shuttered King/Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook into the state-of-the-art Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center slated to open in late 2020.

Closed since 2007, King/Drew Medical Center will undergo a $322-million renovation to become the MLK Behavioral Health Center. One of the first facilities of its kind, the MLK Behavioral Health Center is envisioned to provide integrated inpatient, outpatient and supportive services for some of Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable populations, including those struggling with mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness, and those who have been involved in the criminal justice system.

Kingfisher Court mental health facility in Hertforshire, UK, which will serve as an inspiration for the design of the rooftop garden and recreation space envisioned for the MLK Behavioral Health Center. Concept photo, courtesy of HMC Architects.

“This pioneering project will bring much-needed integrated mental health, substance use and medical services throughout the region,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed the project. “This sorely needed investment will deliver cutting-edge care for the residents of Los Angeles County, with the goal of fostering long-term community wellness.”

The MLK Behavioral Health Center will house clinical and behavioral staff from the Departments of Mental Health, Public Health and Health Services. It will also have staff from the Departments of Probation and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services to provide rehabilitative, vocational and training opportunities intended to give people the skills they need to reintegrate into society.

“By revitalizing the former MLK Hospital as an integrated Behavioral Health Center that delivers resources across the continuum of care, we will be able to provide desperately needed treatment services and recovery opportunities to our County’s most vulnerable populations,” LA County Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin said.

The Sodo Kitchen at Starbucks Headquarter, Seattle, WA, which will serve as an inspiration for the design of the Grab-N-Go Cafe at the MLK Behavioral Health Center. Concept photo, courtesy of HMC Architects.

“We are uniquely positioned to offer hope for our residents struggling with behavioral health concerns through an integrated approach that places patients at the center,” added LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

LA County Probation Chief Terri McDonald said, “The ability of Probation staff to connect our clients to critical onsite reentry services, such as behavioral health counseling and job training, improves client outcomes and community safety.”

Concept photo of Primary Care Clinic envisioned for the MLK Behavioral Health Center, courtesy of HMC Architects.

LA County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry will also operate at the MLK Behavioral Health Center. The Office’s director, retired judge Peter Espinoza, said, “With the MLK Behavioral Health Center, the people we serve will have an easily accessible location in the community from which to take advantage of the critical mental health, substance use, housing and job readiness services that they need to successfully reenter society after a stint in the criminal justice system.”

The MLK Behavioral Health Center will be latest addition to the 42-acre MLK Medical Campus, which already includes the MLK Community Hospital, MLK Outpatient Center, MLK Recuperative Care Center, MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic, and MLK Center for Public Health.

The campus is still expanding and, within months, will include a new Child and Family Well-Being Center. Scheduled to open in mid-2019, it will include the newly expanded MLK Pediatric HUB, an Autism Screening and Treatment Center, and a Family Justice Center. This collaboration will be the first of its kind to serve children and adolescents, as well as individuals and families fleeing intimate partner and domestic violence.

Meanwhile, the MLK Medical Office Building, where patients can see doctors for routine visits and specialized treatments, is slated to become a part of the campus in mid-2020.

Concept photo of Urgent Care Center envisioned for the MLK Behavioral Health Center, courtesy of HMC Architects.

LA County Offers to Step In to Help
Customers of Troubled Water District

Local regulators unanimously voted to initiate the dissolution of the mismanaged Sativa Water District. The vote came just one day after Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn sent a letter to the State Water Board proposing that LA County be appointed as interim administrator of the water district until a permanent agency can be identified. The Local Agency Formation Commission for the County of Los Angeles (LAFCO), consistent with the Supervisors’ letter, also urged the State to appoint and provide financial support to the County of Los Angeles, in order for them to oversee the District. The County of Los Angeles has also offered to lead a process to identify an alternative, competent long-term water provider.

Hundreds of Sativa customers in unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton have reported brown water running through their taps. Unable to provide proper maintenance of its 70-year-old pipes, Sativa has been the subject of many such complaints over the years, as well as allegations of mismanagement and nepotism.

In the letter, the Supervisors also urged the California State Water Resources Board to empower and fund the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to begin “creating stability in Sativa’s immediate administrative functions” and “facilitating a long-term alternative service provider for this service territory.”

Residents line up for bottled water at Sagrado Corazon Church in Compton.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “For too long, government – at all levels – has allowed Sativa to operate without sufficient oversight. The County is willing to step up to facilitate the changes that are necessary to promote the public health and wellbeing of Sativa customers. In this time of unprecedented surpluses in its budget, we hope the State will be our partner by providing the financial resources needed to facilitate our efforts.”

“The County is prepared to step in to take control of this long-mismanaged water district,” said Supervisor Hahn, a member of LAFCO, who voted in favor the dissolution. “The leadership of Sativa has proven itself to be incapable and untrustworthy and as LAFCO moves forward to dissolve this district, I am hopeful that the County can provide some needed supervision and stability.”

When Sativa customers first expressed alarm about the brown water running through their taps in April, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed an urgency motion to conduct an investigation, take immediate steps to prevent any serious risks to public health, and determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s infrastructure issues. At his direction, the County distributed approximately 20,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton.

In June, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called on the California State Water Resources Control Board to appoint an interim administrator to exercise “vigorous oversight” of Sativa. Shortly after, he filed a motion to support SB1577 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, which called for requiring the state to appoint an overseer for Sativa.

Celebrating South LA Doctors-in-Training

The Board of Supervisors celebrated the newly accredited Family Medicine and Psychiatry Residency Programs at 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.

Eight of the new Family Medicine residents and six of the new Psychiatry residents were on hand for the scroll presentation at the Hall of Administration.

“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,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of a motion that helped establish the residency programs. “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 Janice Hahn, the motion’s coauthor.

CDU President and CEO Dr. David Carlisle said the residency programs are intended to benefit medically underserved communities in South LA. “If you want doctors to work in the community, you need to train them in the community,” he said.

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.

Relay for Life of Baldwin Hills

All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas walked with cancer survivors to kick off the Relay for Life of Baldwin Hills, a 24-hour walkathon aimed at increasing public awareness of cancer while raising much-needed funds for the American Cancer Society’s patient service programs, cancer research, advocacy and community education. In his speech during the opening ceremony, he stressed that fighting cancer requires all hands on deck.

“It’s an honor for me to be able to support the American Cancer Society in their work to fight cancer. I think it would be safe to say that most of us here have been touched by cancer, either personally or through a close friend or family member.

“According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 195,951 new cases of cancer between 2011 and 2015 in Los Angeles County. During that time period, 70,920 people died of cancer in the County.

“We can and must do more. We have to take action to lower the risk factors and exposure to known cancer-causing substances, promote healthy lifestyles, and provide early detection and screening programs.

“In Los Angeles County, fighting cancer means all hands on deck. Recognizing that cancer is a complex disease, our departments employ a multi-disciplinary approach to cancer care — with primary care providers, specialists, surgeons, geneticists, nurses, nutritionists, social workers and others coordinating care centered around the patient.

“Through programs such as Every Woman Counts and Family PACT (Planning, Access, Care and Treatment), we provide free early cancer detection programs, and follow-up care and treatment for low-income residents.

“The results have been noteworthy. In the past two years, we have improved screening rates for several major cancers: 17 percent improvement for breast cancer; 11 percent for colon cancer; and 47 percent for cervical cancer!

“This translates to 12,000 more patients who were screened in 2017 than in 2015.

“County hospitals, often in collaboration with the nation’s leading universities, offer state-of-the-art treatment and research dedicated to comprehensive patient care. Through the eConsult system, we have also improved the speed at which providers receive responses for oncology specialty assistance, ensuring that even non-urgent oncology requests receive responses within four calendar days.

“We have also developed a guidebook called 26 Cancer-care Related Expected Practices to educate providers and establish effective approaches to care, and we have created a Cancer Care Taskforce that will create an action plan for improving the continuum of care for cancer patients within the County system.

“Furthermore, our Department of Public Health works to actively reduce barriers to healthy lifestyles by implementing programs for tobacco control, healthy food access, and environmental health.

“I commend everyone gathered here today for your dedication to fighting cancer. This is a burden that impacts people, regardless of  gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity in all parts of County, and we must all step up to the plate.

“Today we are celebrating survivors, recognizing those who continue to fight, and reaffirming our promise not to give up.

“The inspiration, hope, and sense of community generated during the next 24 hours of the Relay for Life will carry us to the next 24 hours, and the one after that, and the one after that.

“Day by day, step by step, we will not only survive, but fight.”