Ridley-Thomas Calls For Jumpstarting LA County’s Bioscience Industry

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made the case Thursday for creating thriving bioscience hubs within Los Angeles County’s five medical research facilities, and he urged private investors and scientific researchers to join in the effort.

Speaking at the Biotech Summit at USC’s Health Sciences Campus, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted the bioscience industry accounts for a mere 1 percent of private sector employment in Los Angeles County. This, even though local universities produce more than 5,000 graduates in fields related to bioscience every year.

The problem is that most of those graduates leave Los Angeles to work in bioscience hubs in San Diego, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the county should create its own bioscience hubs at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, LAC+USC Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus.

“This concept of a biomedical park will be catalytic in terms of the number of positive things that would come from it,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “It means jobs, the advancement of science and technology, better health outcomes, and economic development and community development.”

“It’s a game changer that’s truly transformative,” he added. “It’s about the highest level of public private partnership, and I think it’s very important that the state, the county, the city and the private sector do all it can to join forces.”

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in 2011, the county Board of Supervisors hired researchers from the Battelle Memorial Institute to help craft a master plan for growing the bioscience industry, which includes everything from medical device manufacturing to biopharmaceutical development.

The study concluded the county’s bioscience industry is primed for take off, because it has top research universities and clinical hospitals, as well as a manufacturing base, massive ports and venture capitalists. It recommended harnessing the potential of the county’s medical research facilities to create incubators for start-up firms, and to make room for well-established companies to expand in Los Angeles.

 A Biosciences Task Force, created at the urging of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, is expected to submit its own blueprint for the fledgling industry near the end of summer.

Ahead of the summit, USC President C.L. Max Nikias said, “Los Angeles requires an ecosystem that fosters business, venture capital investment and access to academic medial centers for research and clinical trials. USC hopes to spark this change by building a Biotechnology Park adjacent to our Health Sciences Campus in Boyle Heights.”

“All of the ingredients for Los Angeles to capture growth in this booming field are already here,” Nikias said. “With the right alignment between government, academia and industry, we can harness the region’s exiting strengths – including our science graduates, to create lasting growth.”

The bioscience industry may represent just 1 percent of private sector employment in the county, but it still outpaced all other sectors in job growth, even during the Great Recession.

David Meyer, president and CEO of LA BioMed, or the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, believes that percentage could multiply fivefold – maybe even tenfold — with enough private investment and political will.

He said efforts underway to jumpstart the bioscience industry are “one of the best things to come along in support of discovery and innovation that I’ve seen in LA County.”

Statement from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Government Accountability

Seal_of_Los_Angeles_County,_CaliforniaI am pleased to see that the Board of Supervisors has agreed to reform the way county government is structured. Over the past year, Mayor Mike Antonovich and I worked very hard to bring about this change. It is a vindication of our efforts to have this new board approve of a different direction.

There have been several examples where the CEO structure has failed the Board and the county residents that we serve. While it was established to promote accountability, the CEO structure actually created bottlenecks and blocked information from flowing more freely to the Board of Supervisors. Ultimately, we are accountable to the residents of Los Angeles County and this will help us be more responsive.

For example, both the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Probation, have become more proactive and effective since they began reporting directly to the Board.

By changing the structure of county government, significant issues will be dealt with in a timely manner. We will have a county government that is ultimately accountable to the elected Board and not to one person holding an appointed position. The new motion will compel county departments to be more nimble and open to change. It is indeed a new era in county government and I, for one, welcome the change.

County Needs to Change Hiring Practices

assessmentSupervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to consider measures that will establish countywide hiring guidelines and procedures to ensure the job candidate evaluation, hiring and job promotion process is fair and unbiased and that examination materials are secure.

His motion, which will be voted on the first week of March, comes in the wake of a county audit that found the Los Angeles County Fire Department hiring process was marred by cheating on promotional exams, civil service exams for fire captains and tests for driving and emergency medical skills. According to the audit, copies of written and oral exams were left unattended in an unsecured box of paperwork and copies of interview questions and answers were circulated prior to the test.

Ridley-Thomas’ motion asks that hiring procedures include an effective digital, customizable, secure, transparent and cost-effective testing and assessment system that all Los Angeles County departments must use.

“The county must establish fair and uniform recruiting and hiring policies,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion.  “Maintaining and promoting a top-notch workforce is one way we can better serve our 10 million residents.”

While several county departments rely on cutting-edge computer-based assessment tools, including the Department of Human Resources On-Line Testing Program, it is optional and not used countywide. These tools allow departments to find and assess candidates in an efficient, fair and secure way.

Continuing Life-Saving Services at St. Francis Medical Center

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas applauded Attorney General Kamala Harris’ decision ensuring that life-saving and emergency medical services continue in the Southeast Los Angeles area for at least a decade after the sale of St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to Prime Healthcare Services, Inc.

The Attorney General announced Friday that Prime, the intended buyer of six Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals including St. Francis, must agree to a 10-year condition to operate a Level II Trauma Center, retain emergency rooms, psychiatric services and other medical services related to Level II Trauma. The hospital must also give a one-year mandatory written legal notice of any changes in services after 10 years.

In addition, the local governing board for Saint Francis must include one member designated by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; provide a total of $10 million in community benefit programs for 11 years vetted by the governing board and participate in Medi-Cal and Medicare programs.

“While we are still learning the full details of the Attorney General’s action, I am pleased to hear that there will not be a disruption in life-saving services,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sent a letter to the Attorney General in January expressing concern about maintaining critical services. “We must ensure that the community is protected.”

Both the Attorney General and the Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services have released reports confirming the crucial role St. Francis Medical Center plays as one of the busiest trauma centers in the county. In addition, a related January report by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services found that the new private non-profit MLK Community Hospital — set to open later this year – could not fill any trauma care service delivery gap without a significant service expansion and financial investment for additional hospital staff and infrastructure, including the construction of new inpatient beds and operating rooms.

Helping Exploited Children Heal

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A seminar participant reacts to information on trafficked children.

As a licensed social worker, Candice Kimbell has heard many heartbreaking stories from children struggling with difficult issues. But when one child told her that she had been “recruited” at school, Kimbell was stumped. She discovered that the child had been tricked into prostitution by a friend, known as a “recruiter,” and then sexually exploited and sold by a pimp.

“I didn’t know what she meant,” said Kimbell, who is also a training coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “I knew I needed to find out more.”

And so, Kimbell joined dozens of mental health professionals at a recent two-day training seminar on the commercial sexual exploitation of children hosted by the Department of Mental Health and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 children are at risk of being exploited sexually and sold into prostitution in the United States. The average age of entry into the sex trade for these children is 12.

In 2013, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Don Knabe authored a motion to establish a county-wide approach to combat the trafficking of children in Los Angeles.  Already, thousands of Los Angeles County employees have been trained and educated on the dangers of sex trafficking.

Social workers and mental health professionals from the Department of Mental Health began helping children in the county’s probation camps when it became apparent that there was a significant number of girls, ages 15-18, who had been  incarcerated for prostitution related activities.  Many of these girls were victims of abuse and neglect and they suffered from depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

This year, the Department of Mental Health plans to train and educate more than 600 professionals so they are able to detect signs of sexual exploitation or trafficking among children. By knowing the signs, some might even be able to prevent  children who are at-risk of falling prey to predators.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has led efforts in the fight against child sex trafficking county-wide, said he hoped the two-day event would bring about more awareness and change.

“When we see young people being exploited and we do nothing, we diminish ourselves,” he said. “It is my hope you all leave here today with the inspiration and knowledge to transform the lives of these victims.”

Advising the professionals in the audience, Marvin Southard, director of the Department of Mental Health added, “Keep your mind active but your heart soft as you deal with these children who have faced horrible things.”

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Nola Brantley, CEO of Nola Brantley SPEAKS, an advocacy organization for trafficked youth.

The two day seminar was led by Nola Brantley, a survivor and founder of Nola Brantley SPEAKS, an advocacy organization for trafficked children. Brantley, who has spoken nationally on the topic and has helped to train thousands of people in Los Angeles County, noted the importance of treating these children as victims, not as perpetrators of a crime.

“These children are not prostitutes,” she told the audience. “They are sexually exploited children. You can be a part of the restoration of a belief in humanity. We may not see ourselves as healers and we may not see our work as important. But it is. I know that what has been broken can be restored.”