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How ‘Killer King’ Became
the Hospital of the Future

A tough Los Angeles neighborhood shuttered its hospital,
and embraced something totally new.

Published with permission from POLITICO. Click here for the full story and photos.

LOS ANGELES — If you want a glimpse into the future of American hospitals, this corner of South Central Los Angeles might seem an unlikely stop. Caught between Compton and Watts, the Willowbrook neighborhood is better known for a history of gang violence and race riots. Its previous hospital, the old Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, was dubbed “Killer King” and shuttered in 2007 after horrific stories of patients being given the wrong drugs, preventable deaths and other incidents of mismanagement or incompetence.

Today, that building is still there, a hulking concrete carcass that represents one of the bleakest chapters in Los Angeles County’s health history. And next to it is a gleaming new hospital that opened its doors two years ago, reorganized and built from scratch.

Though King/Drew ultimately failed the community, the county-run hospital was also the only source of health care for hundreds of thousands of residents of this poverty-riven area of the city. Its emergency department had been the place mothers went to deliver babies, children were brought if they had high fevers and gunshot victims were sewn up. Its closure effectively left one of the city’s most vulnerable communities without access to health care.

So when a group of community leaders and elected officials started to plan for King’s replacement, they did something bold: Instead of even considering fixing up the old hospital, they decided to start fresh and build a new one. And to do that, they would have to rethink the very concept of what a hospital is and what it does.

The new private, nonprofit Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital is a nearly $300 million medical center that shares the same county-owned grounds as the old hospital, but little else.

For one thing, the new hospital is much smaller, with just 131 beds compared with the old hospital’s 233 beds. Instead of being the sole source of a whole area’s medical needs, the new hospital is designed as the hub of a wide network of clinics, neighborhood outposts designed to provide the day-to-day care residents need. The hospital itself focuses instead on acute-care and highly specialized services for a smaller but sicker group of patients.

But perhaps the biggest difference is the vision. The hospital is just one part of a larger system to improve the lives and protect the health of its residents—a system that extends well beyond medical care. The county is creating new senior housing and additional services, working with the hospital to bring healthier food options and even more jobs to the area. Meanwhile, the hospital is working to provide more outpatient services outside its walls and to support the county in revitalizing the community.

In fact, in many ways, the hospital of the future is an un-hospital. Instead, it’s a wellness network with a small hospital at the center, providing critical care for the small number of acute illnesses and injuries that can’t be addressed in any other setting.

“Hospitals are actually a very small part of the solution for health in most communities,” said Mitch Katz, an internist who heads L.A. County’s Department of Health Services and oversaw the reimagining and rebuilding of the new hospital. “Because hospitals are these large buildings, people tend to equate health with hospitals when, in fact, you go to a hospital when you’re not healthy.”

The vision isn’t complete yet, but it already includes some components that might not normally fall under a hospital’s purview. On a recent day, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, widely credited as the elected leader most responsible for the hospital’s rebirth, paid a visit to the campus and pointed out what parts already exist and which are in the works.

In front of the new hospital was a farmer’s market—an effort sponsored by the county to combat the neighborhood’s lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. A new behavioral health center will soon open in the concrete building that housed the old hospital. Ridley-Thomas pointed to existing structures across the street – near the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science – and noted plans to build a new senior center, a community library and a new Willowbrook/Rosa Parks transportation hub.

Ridley-Thomas called it “a state-of-the-art way of operating a medical campus.” By the end of 2019, the county will have invested more than $1 billion in a revitalization effort that’s expected to bring at least 2,700 jobs to the area.

That larger vision of trying to take care of the community – not just treating patients in the hospital – is what puts Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in the forefront of where U.S. health care is going, said Bruce Leff, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the university’s Center for Transformative Geriatric Research.

Leff described the new facility as having “a leg up” on other hospitals in trying to do that. Most hospitals are so established in their thinking and in their communities that it’s hard for them to rethink their mission. South Central had a chance to turn the tragedy of the old hospital’s closing into an opportunity to shed old thinking, an old facility and take a giant step into the future. And along the way it had a chance to figure out how to address the social factors that public health experts increasingly believe have more to do with your health than any hospital, factors like poverty, access to good food and education.

“Health systems are over time and into the future are going to take much more responsibility for dealing with the social determinants of health in the service of providing better wellness and better health, not just health,” Leff explained. “In my view, that’s the next frontier.”

Needless deaths

The old King/Drew hospital opened in 1972 with the best intentions. Born out the 1965 Watts race riots, which left 34 people dead and more than a 1,000 injured in an area that had no medical facility, the King hospital and its affiliated medical school, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, served as a source of pride for the neighborhood just south of Watts, which at the time was predominantly African-American. It was named after two African-American icons – King, the civil rights leader, and Drew, a pioneering physician who developed blood banks.

The hospital was a huge boon to the neighborhood. Before the original hospital opened, 83-year-old Alice Harris, a community organizer and mother of nine known in the neighborhood as “Sweet Alice,” remembers tending to her neighbors’ needs with a little bag filled with alcohol, Band-Aids, aspirin and cough medicine she made herself. “If a child got ran over in the street, he was going to die because it would be three hours before the rescue would come,” said Harris, who at the time was working as a hairdresser in her home in the housing projects.

But over the years, King/Drew hospital’s reputation dropped to the bottom ranking among American teaching hospitals and became rocked by allegations of incompetence, medical errors and needless deaths. A Pulitzer Prize-winning series published in 2004 in the Los Angeles Times recounted appalling stories: a meningitis patient being given a powerful anti-cancer drug for four days, employees pilfering and in some cases selling hospital drugs, nurses failing to monitor patients’ vital signs. Medical mistakes, the Times reported, cost the county more than $20 million in malpractice payments from 1999 to 2003. In a particularly harrowing tale from 2007, a woman died after writhing in pain for 45 minutes on the waiting-room floor while the hospital’s surveillance cameras show a janitor mopping up around her.

To many residents like Harris, those stories were overblown and, in her opinion, unfair or even fabricated. The hospital and trauma center filled their needs, and remained a point of pride.

“We didn’t see what they seen. We didn’t see those problems,” Harris explained. “Our children were being taken care of. We had the best trauma center in the world.”

Allan Avant, who grew up in Watts, didn’t think the “Killer King” moniker was related to its reputation for poor care. “A lot of people would go in there for gunshot wounds and end up dead,” said Avant, 58, adding he always considered it to be a good hospital. But those breakdowns in care eventually caused the hospital to lose its accreditation and shut its doors. The closure forced many residents to travel longer distances for care, or simply to forgo it altogether.

Ridley-Thomas, a former state assemblyman and senator, was sworn in as a member of the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 1, 2008, charged with representing about 2 million people in Los Angeles’ 2nd District, an area that includes the hospital and some of the most marginalized and troubled parts of the county. He advocated for the hospital’s closure, calling its substandard conditions “completely unacceptable” and “indefensible.”

Today he looks at the new medical center like he still can’t believe it’s there. “When a hospital closes, particularly a public hospital closes, it does not open again,” he said. “That which has been accomplished here is, in fact, contrary to the known and lived experience of patients, as well as hospital administrators and health care providers.”

The challenges it faces are broad and deep. The new hospital’s service area – approximately a three-mile radius from the hospital that includes residents of Los Angeles, as well as nearby cities such as Compton, Carson and Gardena – has some of the worst health outcomes and inequities in the state. There’s a dearth of doctors, which is typical in underserved areas but exacerbated by the exodus of primary-care and specialty physicians after King/Drew closed. (A study conducted earlier this year found a shortage of more than 1,200 doctors in the area it serves.) Fewer than half the adults in the area speak mostly English at home, a statistic that requires the hospital to translate materials, have caregivers who speak Spanish and use technology to provide interpretation in less common languages and dialects. About a third of the region lives at or below the federal poverty level and more than 40 percent lack a high school diploma.

Health outcomes are also poor, with mortality rates for stroke and coronary heart disease about 30 percent higher than the county overall. The area lacks many of the features – access to healthy foods, safe spaces for walking and exercise – vital for good health and instead has too many liquor stores, high rates of crime and other factors that create stress and disease.

These might not seem like a hospital’s problem, but ultimately that’s where they land. Public health experts are increasingly convinced that addressing such issues—what medical and social scientists refer to as the “social determinants of health”—is crucial both for patients and for building a cost-effective health care system. Rather than just treating the illnesses that result from all these factors, they’re looking for new models of health care that can address those problems at the root, as well as deliver more traditional medical services.

“Most of the health of the community is not related to what happens in the ICU,” Johns Hopkins’ Leff said. “Martin Luther King becomes an agent of both health care and the public trust by doing this kind of work.”

New safety net

What’s new about the King hospital begins with who runs it. Most safety-net hospitals are public, run by a county or city government. The old hospital was run by L.A. County. The new hospital is governed by a private nonprofit entity. “You have a lot of existing hospital systems that build new facilities. They take a template and stamp out another hospital,” said the medical center’s CEO, Elaine Batchlor, also the hospital organization’s first hire. “What we did here is create a whole new organization, a whole new stand-alone hospital organization, from the ground up. From scratch.”

The longstanding role of the public hospital is to serve as a safety net and take care of the community’s most vulnerable patients, regardless of their ability to pay. But the bottom line is that government has been getting out of the business of running hospitals for decades because of financial and logistical challenges. California, which has 58 counties, has only 15 county-run hospitals. Most safety-net hospitals are now run by private, nonprofit entities, or academic institutions like the University of California. Overall, nearly a fifth of California’s hospitals are run by state or local governments, nearly 60 percent are nonprofit and about 22 percent are run by for-profit companies – which puts the state on par with the national average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Martin Luther King Jr. Community is the only hospital in the state operating under a public-private partnership with its county. The arrangement came out of its unusual circumstances, but Katz, head of the county’s health services, believes what was done in L.A. County could be replicated elsewhere. “It’s a model for communities where there’s a need for public hospital, but there’s not a capability to run a public hospital,” Katz said, who knows of no other hospital structured like it. “This provides a model for how government and a private entity could open a successful hospital together.”

Katz acknowledged that while government can do some things well, it’s not very flexible and can be mired in red tape. King’s private structure allows the hospital to make decisions like who to hire and what technologies to purchase more swiftly and efficiently. It can fundraise more effectivel, since most people don’t want to donate money to organizations they already fund with their tax dollars.

Batchlor, a Harvard graduate who received her medical degree from Case Western Reserve University and did her internship and residence at Los Angeles’ Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, served as the chief medical officer at L.A. Care Health Plan and was a vice president at the California Health Care Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropy in Oakland. She said she was drawn to King by the idea of creating a new hospital and organization, one that’s entirely separate from the medical center’s past reputation

The Affordable Care Act’s expanded coverage and the hospital’s partnership with the county and the state provide essential stability. The nonprofit hospital operates on an annual budget of about $250 million and has remained financially viable despite serving a patient population that relies heavily on government programs. Batchlor is concerned about the ongoing threat to the ACA and the future of expanded Medicaid, but says she doesn’t let that overwhelm her focus. “We’re not stressed. We’re doing fine and we manage our resources appropriately,” she said, adding that the hospital receives special funding to support its safety-net mission and has raised more than $25 million in private contributions since it opened.

Batchlor made it a mission to make sure that every doctor who works at the hospital is board-certified to help ensure the consistency and quality of care that had been lacking under the old regime. In addition, staff members called navigators or “care coordinators” are assigned to every patient on admission, regardless of the level of care needed. Other hospitals tend to use navigators just for the sickest or most complex patients.

The hospital has been open for just two years, so it’s difficult to gauge its impact on the community’s health. Many of its innovative measures take time to assess. But Batchlor is proud of early signs that point to success. Nearly 90,000 people have been treated by the emergency room, more than twice what was initially projected. While the hospital hopes soon to be able to treat more people in outpatient settings, the high volume of ER visits speaks to the pent-up need in the community for care, as well as residents’ confidence in the new facility, Batchlor said.

Unlike its predecessor, the new hospital does not have a trauma center, nor does it have any plans to build one. Trauma centers, which handle the most difficult emergency cases and require high levels of staffing with specialists, are especially costly to operate. Instead, the hospital’s leaders decided to focus on providing better preventative and primary care and to send complex trauma victims to California Hospital Medical Center, about 10 miles north in downtown L.A.

“You don’t really know what all of your needs are going to be until you open your doors and start taking care of patients,” Batchlor said. “Our doctors, many of whom had trained in hospitals that had similar patients, were surprised at how sick our patients were. Part of it’s a reflection of the fact we don’t have enough doctors in the community taking care of people.”

Drawing doctors back to the area is high on the medical center’s priority list. The hospital is working with the county to construct a new medical office building on campus to provide space for outpatient care. Meanwhile, in December, the hospital formed a medical group and opened its first outpatient center, a post-discharge clinic tucked away in temporary digs in a strip mall with a Fat Burger in nearby Compton. The medical group is small, with about a dozen physicians, but will grow, especially once it has a permanent home.

Juan Cabrales, the primary-care physician who runs the clinic, says it can be tough to recruit providers because most doctors don’t think of South Central as a place they want to work. But that’s also part of the draw. “I knew this community didn’t have a lot of resources,” said Cabrales, who trained at UCLA and is originally from Mexico. “I heard the mission and wanted to be part of the mission and bring highly trained providers, especially primary care, which is highly needed. We want to raise the level of health care delivery.”

That mission, along with building a new practice from scratch, also drew Alan Kaplan, a urologist who completed his residency at UCLA and is working on his MBA. He started working at the hospital and the outpatient clinic on Aug. 1.

“It was that ability to craft the ideal practice around, ‘What should health care 2.0 look like in a community that needs it’?” he said. “We have the infrastructure. We have the people. We have the ability to do something very unique.”

For Kaplan, technology could be a component of that mission. More than 80 percent of the people in the area have smartphones, and he imagines tapping into that in different ways to provide care and ensure follow up. “There are a lot of ways we can leverage technology and the IT we have to address the social determinants of health,” he said. But the biggest challenge, Kaplan said, is convincing people who are used to going to an emergency department for care that they can get appropriate, or even better care in a clinic or doctor’s office. Kaplan said that’s a challenge because many patients may have never had a regular primary-care doctor. They may not know they can get care in a clinic, but they know they can go to the hospital.

“There are tremendous challenges here that you just don’t have in West L.A.,” he said, referring to the wealthier side of the county. “Everything in life is uncertain: jobs, housing, food, safety, health care, transportation, child care. Everything is a challenge, so when you have a medical issue, whether truly severe or not, there is a tendency to perceive it as supersevere, when maybe it’s not.”

Hard sell

While the trend toward shifting care out of hospitals to less acute clinic settings has been going on for years, if not decades, around the country, it’s still a hard sell and a balance that’s difficult to achieve. Martin Luther King Jr. Community is attempting to build that, along with its larger vision of redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood over the next few years.

Health care futurist Ian Morrison, who serves on the hospital’s board of directors, actually floated this question to its founders before the medical center was completed: if care is being pushed outside the medical center, do they really need a new hospital at all? For now, at least, Morrison said, hospitals are still necessary. “If you look at the numbers, in even the most extreme sense of futurism, there are still going to be sick people who need acute care done on an emergency basis,” Morrison explained. So far, he described the new hospital as being successful, calling it “a hub of excellence” in a community with a long history being medically underserved.

But beyond that, the health of underserved communities need to be tackled on a broader sense. Hospitals around the country are looking at different ways to manage issues such as connecting patients with lawyers to resolve legal or landlord-tenant issues that lead to poor health, such as mold abatement, or helping the homeless find permanent housing. But a lot of these efforts are handled piecemeal.

“Although our mission is really to provide acute care for the community, we are continually finding ourselves saying to do it well, we have to go beyond the walls and into social determinants of health and population health,” Morrison said.

Morrison hopes that Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital’s more holistic approach of involving the county and other partners in transforming the neighborhood will, within the decade, yield impressive results in improving overall health status.

“This whole notion of going upstream and dealing with causal factors [of health inequities], it can get too big to manage,” he said. “That’s why having the county as a partner is so important because it speaks to such issues as housing and food security and homelessness and transportation.”

For “Sweet Alice” Harris, who never wanted the old hospital closed in the first place, she described having a new hospital back in her neighborhood as heavenly.

“We’re in Beverly Hills now. We never thought we would have something like this here,” Harris said. “This is beautiful. This will make you well when you think you’re going to die. That’s how you can help people. Give them the best. Because giving them the best will change people, and bring the love back in. That’s what the best will do.”

Victoria Colliver is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro based in California.  

Sweeping Advances to Keep Youth
Out of the Justice System

In a historic move, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a roadmap for diverting thousands of youth from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and for connecting them to a comprehensive array of supportive services – education, employment, housing, healthcare and more – to help them thrive.

Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Diandra Jay, Board of Supervisors

“Giving youth access to supportive services as an alternative to arrest and incarceration is both morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “We need to manage our resources smartly, and be more humane and less militaristic in dealing with young people so they can lead better lives and be an asset to their communities.”

“The best juvenile system is one that keeps kids out of it in the first place,” added the motion’s coauthor, Supervisor Janice Hahn. “With the action we are taking today, our County departments are going to better work together to keep children out of court and in school.”

Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, a nonprofit that works extensively with youth in the juvenile justice system, expressed “enthusiastic support” for the motion. He said, “We know that punishment doesn’t work when it comes to helping young people who are struggling, as health conditions – many rooted in childhood trauma – are often at the root of the behavior that leads them to the justice system in the first place.”

The Board voted to accept the recommendations and strategies of A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in Los Angeles County developed by its Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee. It also called for creating a Youth Diversion and Development division within the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR).

“Since its creation two years ago, the ODR has successfully diverted more than 1,300 adults from the County’s jails,” noted Judge Peter Espinoza (Ret.), director of the ODR. “What has been missing from this work has been a dedicated effort to keep young people out of the justice system. By launching this youth diversion and development work at ODR, the County is poised to offer a continuum of supportive services to the entire community and further reduce arrests and incarceration.”

Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas underscored the achievement by adding, “By launching this work, Los Angeles County can and will lead the nation in promoting youth wellbeing, addressing racial disparities, and embracing cost-effective approaches.”

L-R: Office of Child Protection Director, Judge Michael Nash (Ret.); Office of Diversion and Reentry Director, Judge Peter Espinoza (Ret.); The California Endowment President and CEO Dr. Robert Ross; and LA County Assistant CEO Fesia Davenport, testifying in support of the  motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Health Equity in Marijuana Regulations

As Los Angeles County prepares to craft regulations for marijuana commerce, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to look at health equity – or inequity – in communities when considering prospective retailers that want to operate there.

Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“We have to be thoughtful and deliberate about unintended consequences in communities that are already particularly vulnerable,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “We must create regulations that lead to responsible, conscientious businesses that contribute to the health and wellbeing of the neighborhood.” He elaborates further in a HuffPost op-ed.

The County’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) held a series of listening sessions to get public input on regulations. Its coordinator, Joseph Nicchitta, said most participants raised the same questions: “How will the County address overconcentration of cannabis retailers in one community? Will cannabis retail make existing conditions worse in neighborhoods with relatively high rates of crime, high concentrations of alcohol outlets and other negative health indicators? Will commercial cannabis increase youth consumption (of marijuana)?”

LA Cunty Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) coordinator Joseph Nicchitta and Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer

The motion sought to address those concerns, directing that when the County is weighing the issuance of licenses to prospective pot shops, it should look at whether the surrounding neighborhood already has an overconcentration of alcohol sales, lower educational attainment rates, higher crime rates, and other indicators of negative health outcomes that could be exacerbated by marijuana sales. It also called for issuing the first licenses in phases.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who coauthored the motion, called it “a first step to examining and mitigating adverse impacts, including supporting youth development and drug prevention programs, especially in communities already affected by health disparities caused by alcohol and substance use.”

“Health equity means that everyone has access to the opportunities and the resources they need for optimal health and wellbeing,” added County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said. “Underlying that principle, though, is the fact that if you look at health outcomes today, you see enormous differences that are based on where a person lives, works, plays and, oftentimes, the color of their skin.”

The OCM plans to present the Board with recommendations for a regulatory framework in December or January. It will incorporate public input from the listening sessions, as well as the report of the Cannabis Advisory Working Group, which is comprised of community members, business owners, advocacy groups, public health experts and cannabis industry representatives.

 

Health Equity Versus Social Equity
in the Age of (Recreational) Cannabis

The Los Angeles County Office of Cannabis Management holds a Community Listening Session in West Athens/Vermont — Chester Washington Golf Course on July 20, 2017

Op-Ed

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

As California prepares to kick off the nation’s largest legal commerce in marijuana, it’s easy to salivate over the multibillion-dollar bonanza this could bring to the state and local economy, and to believe the hype that this wealth can reverse some of the damage wrought over decades by the war on drugs.

But when Los Angeles County’s Office of Cannabis Management held a series of “listening sessions” to seek public input on potential regulations, the question that cropped up again and again was how this might affect various communities, especially the youth.

It was particularly poignant when asked by parents in neighborhoods already contending with a glut of marijuana dispensaries and stores selling alcohol and tobacco – all dependency-inducing products.

They worried that marijuana, while intended for adult use, could still affect the health of their children. This was not only because youth are particularly vulnerable to recreational marijuana’s psychoactive substances but because their neighborhoods – typically low-income communities of color – tend to be medically underserved and already beset with higher than average rates of substance abuse disorders and other maladies.

In large swaths of South and Southeast LA, for example, the life expectancy rates ranged from 75.8 years to 80.6 years, or as many as 14 years shorter than those in Malibu and Beverly Hills, based on a recent study that starkly illustrates the health inequity among different communities in the county.

The same study added that health disparities are caused by a host of factors, including limited access to affordable and quality medical care, healthy food, clean air, good schools, jobs that reduce the stress of economic uncertainty, and safe neighborhoods where families and communities can thrive.

Health equity is an essential characteristic of a society that values the wellbeing of every one of its members. In creating the first-ever regulations for marijuana commerce within the county’s unincorporated areas, the Board of Supervisors has an obligation to avoid exacerbating health disparities, and an opportunity to reverse them.

It is imperative that we emphasize health equity in marijuana commerce, and wield regulations in business licensing, monitoring and enforcement so that health disparities can be eliminated or minimized. It would be similar to requiring that real estate developers mitigate their project’s impact on traffic in surrounding neighborhoods as a condition of getting the green light to get their shovels ready.

A lot of attention has been paid to so-called social equity programs that would, in a sense, indemnify people who had suffered disproportionately from the war on drugs by giving them a better chance than others to profit from retail sales of marijuana.

But how can social equity be attained when the focus is narrowly on leveling the playing field of economic opportunity, and no attempt is made to address any other social ills facilitated by manifold addictions and exacerbated by the war on drugs? This crude attempt at social engineering can only be expected to fall short.

When evaluating a prospective retailer of marijuana, it makes sense to check whether factors that lead to health disparities are already particularly pronounced in the community where this business wants to operate, and then to assess whether marijuana commerce in that community would lead to unintended consequences. It is critical that regulations lead to responsible and conscientious businesses that will make a positive contribution to the health and wellbeing of their neighbors.

Creating programs that nurture our youth is always a good idea, but even more so now, amid widespread concerns about pot shops becoming more prevalent. We should also look into bolstering programs to prevent drug use and treat substance abuse disorders.

The newly created Center for Health Equity at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is on a mission to ensure that all communities have equitable access to services and programs so that everyone can achieve their highest levels of wellbeing. It can be a powerful ally in helping to close or narrow health disparities created by marijuana commerce.

The historic shift from prohibition to licensing has tossed Los Angeles County – and indeed the rest the state and the nation – into uncharted waters. Still, it’s obvious that crafting responsible and reasonable regulations is not merely a matter of economics. We must ensure that our most vulnerable communities, many of which have already endured a legacy of neglect and exploitation, are not further harmed by the legalization of recreational marijuana or even the commercialization of cannabis.

The Los Angeles County Office of Cannabis Management holds a Community Listening Session at the Lennox Library on July 22, 2017.

 

Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center Breaks Ground

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas led the groundbreaking ceremony for the Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center with nearly 200 in attendance.

The Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center will be located at 5054 South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. The Life Learning Center was named in honor of two prominent leaders who proactively support coalition building, social justice, empowerment, and non-violent solutions. The newly reimagined and renovated building will be a dedicated youth center to encourage participants and their peers to “drop in” and use it as a safe zone and resource. This warm, welcoming stand-alone drop-in center will provide access to holistic arts education, permanent housing, comprehensive resources, school assistance, career training, and a positive support system.

“One of the most challenging periods in a young person’s life is the transition from adolescence to adulthood,” said Avis Ridley-Thomas.

There is a significant overlap between homelessness and commercial exploitation: a 2017 study found that 91% of homeless youth reported being offered work opportunities that turned out to be fraudulent work situations, scams, pandering, or sex trafficking. More than half of homeless youth report mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, psychosis, and post-traumatic stress. Half of chronically homeless adults in the U.S. experienced homelessness between the ages of 18 and 24. And youth homelessness increased 61% from 2016 to 2017 in the County of Los Angeles.

“This transition from adolescence to adulthood also provides a window of opportunity to intervene and guide young people toward self-sufficiency,” the Chairman said.

The Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center will serve as a drop-in center for any young person seeking a sense of safety and belonging.

The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic (LACGC), a nationally acclaimed mental health service provider for children and youth in South Los Angeles, purchased the building that will house the Center which will occupy 10,000 square feet of space. The center will provide trauma‐informed mental health services and support resources to at‐risk transition‐age youth, ages 16‐25. LACGC’s Life Learning Program was founded in 1992. In 2014, the program was renamed the Avis & Mark‐Ridley Thomas Life Learning Program in honor of their joint achievements in community empowerment and social justice.

“We fully expect that this Center will avert many a young person from the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and a lifetime on the streets,” the Chairman said.

The center is expected to open in mid-2018.