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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.”

First Farmers Market Open Wednesdays in Willowbrook

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus now boasts of hosting the first farmers market at a Los Angeles County medical facility. The wellness center seeks to promote healthy habits within the Willowbrook community, and the weekly farmers market represents the latest innovation and addition to the campus.

“Access to fresh and affordable fruits and veggies allow for the formation of healthy habits,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas at the ribbon cutting for the new farmers market.

The collaboration is the result of a partnership among the Office of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA) and the MLK Outpatient Center. SEE-LA is also providing weekly nutrition classes in English and Spanish through a grant from the Department of Public Health. At the market, patrons will be able to use CalFresh EBT cards and WIC checks. Additionally, SEE-LA offers “Market Match” which doubles the purchasing power of WIC fruit and vegetable checks and CalFresh up to $10 per day.

“This is your market and we hope you use it,” said James Haydu, Executive Director of SEE-LA.

The Farmers Market features fresh produce as well as local vendors– just the prescription for fighting obesity and other chronic diseases.

“But it’s also part of the prescription for being able to get outside, meet your neighbors, and enjoy your community,” the Supervisor said.

The farmers market will be held every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. along the breezeway between the MLK Outpatient Center and the Community Hospital.

Contingency Planning Amid ACA Uncertainty

Los Angeles County’s Health Care Reform Working Group testifying before the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 15. All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

Statement by Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas on Contingency Planning amid efforts to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

I would like to thank all members of this healthcare reform task force for their hard work on this important topic.

While Congress is not actively discussing “repeal” legislation, that could change at any moment. For that reason, this remains an issue we are taking very seriously in LA County.

Let me begin by stating, unequivocally, that I am committed to doing everything within my power to maintain the hard-fought gains we’ve made under the ACA in LA County, regardless of what Congress ends up doing.

Let’s review the facts. Though far from perfect, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – Obamacare – has greatly expanded healthcare coverage in Los Angeles County. According to the presentation we just heard:

The uninsured rate in our County dropped from approximately 21% of residents in 2013 prior to ACA implementation to about 11% in 2015.

Altogether, approximately 1.2 million individuals gained Medi-Cal coverage via the ACA in LA County and an additional 380,000 individuals received subsidized coverage through Covered California, the State-based insurance exchange.

Those who were covered include many of the poorest and most vulnerable residents of Los Angeles, including a large proportion of children, as well as the working poor.

As of May 2017, more than 70,000 undocumented children 0-19 years of age have gained health coverage thanks to passage of SB 75.

Additionally, nationwide, the ACA has increased minimum health benefits, and access to preventative care, women’s health services, and other essential health benefits like emergency care, hospitalization, prescription drugs, and out-of-network services.

It has also prohibited health plans from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

In doing so, the ACA has raised the bar on health care for not just the newly insured, but for everyone.

I would like to commend our County Health Agency, as well as the numerous community groups, advocates, private clinics and hospitals, and others who helped get the word out to ensure those who were eligible got covered.

These advances are precisely what is at stake with efforts to repeal Obamacare. Put simply, if repeal legislation were to be passed, the state of California would risk losing billions of healthcare dollars annually. This would put at risk the major advances in health care coverage and access that have occurred over the past few years.

I am heartened to learn that many others within the state, including my colleagues here on the Board of Supervisors, feel as I do that the ACA has been a very good thing for LA County, and that we should do everything within our power to maintain the gains we’ve made.

If the ACA ends up being repealed – which I very much hope it won’t be – I am glad to hear our leaders within LA County have been working hard to develop contingency plans.

While there are many nuances still being worked out, it is clear to me that our healthcare reform working group has put forth some important ideas that could help mitigate the potential effects of “repeal”, and improve healthcare for the residents of LA County regardless of the outcome.

For this reason, I would like to use this as an opportunity to read-in a motion recognizing the hard work our County leaders have done to develop contingency plans should “repeal” occur.

This motion would also establish a process for ensuring that the recommendations this group comes up with in collaboration with statewide stakeholders come to the Board for consideration in a timely way.

I want to conclude by stating, unequivocally, that I believe healthcare is a basic human right that ought to transcend politics. Too many people suffer and die without that right.

Thank you.

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Athens Vistas Groundbreaking

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led a groundbreaking ceremony for Athens Vistas Apartments, which will provide affordable housing for homeless and low-income seniors in unincorporated Athens when completed in late 2018.

Located at 1300 W. 105th Street, the development will feature 73 affordable and accessible one-bedroom units, half of which will be designated for formerly homeless individuals.

“The project will transform this property from a long-time blight to one of community pride,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said at the groundbreaking ceremony. He added the community should also anticipate new trees, parks and road improvements, as well as improvements to local business along Vermont Avenue and workforce development opportunities.

Chairman Ridley-Thomas noted 2,000 affordable housing units have been built in the Second District since he took office in 2008. Another 1,000 units are in the pipeline.

“Given that Los Angeles County has a shortage of 500,000 affordable housing units, projects like Athens Vistas Apartments are critical to addressing our crisis of homelessness,” he added.

The Salvation Army, the lead service provider at Athens Vistas, will link residents with essential services based on their individual needs. This will include case management, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and other supportive services.

The Los Angeles County Housing Development Corp. and Veloce Partners Inc. are developing the project, with the Birba Group as architect and Walton Construction as general contractor.

Counties Unite to Preserve Health Care

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas welcomes incoming NACo President, Roy Charles Brooks.

Los Angeles County and the State of California stand to be hit the hardest with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The picture is just as devastating for counties nationwide, which was a major topic of discussion at this year’s National Association of Counties Conference and Exposition.

County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger traveled to Columbus, Ohio for NACo’s annual non-partisan meeting with over 2,000 county delegates from nearly every state in the nation. The annual conference is the only meeting that draws a cross section of elected officials and county staff from across the country. Attendees from rural and urban counties, with large and small staff and budgets – all come together for four days of education, networking and sessions aimed to help improve residents’ lives and the efficiency of county government.

This year, amidst federal uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act, health care was a focus of concern at NACo’s Annual Meeting.

“Health care is not to be treated as a partisan issue,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We operate in a non-partisan environment and therefore aim to serve our constituents irrespective of their political orientation.”

According to the National Association of Counties, it is the duty of local government to fulfill public health and safety services for some of the most vulnerable residents including children, older adults, and people with disabilities. NACo asserted that the health care debate should be about improving health outcomes and not simply a budget exercise. NACo further asserted that Congress is orchestrating a massive cost shift beyond the capacity of states and local communities to bear. Every proposal to date would adversely impact the federal, state, and local partnership for Medicaid. Medicaid is a key tool in the battle against the opioid epidemic and is the largest single funder of mental health services and substance abuse treatment. Counties in 26 states help fund Medicaid and many help to administer the program. For these reasons, NACo is currently engaged in the health reform debate on Capitol Hill. Whether or not the Senate passes a bill, NACo continues to focus on the real life impact on counties and their residents and the potential federal cost shifting to local government.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Barger interviewed live on the importance of lifting up the issue of homelessness in the media and Affordable Care Act reform.

“This is a non-partisan issue that impacts all counties,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “This is a crisis and people’s lives are being played as a political pawn.”

Counties continue to invest $80 billion annually in community health — $1 in every $5 of county budgets. Counties support nearly 1,000 hospitals and 900 long term care facilities through these resources. They provide behavioral health services through 750 behavioral health authorities and community providers. About 75% of the United States population is served by county-based behavioral health systems. The debate being advanced about repealing the Affordable Care Act puts these services at risk. NACo further noted that Counties support comprehensive tax reform that lowers the rates for taxpayers and spurs economic growth. But NACo added this was not about tax reform, but about health outcomes for the most vulnerable among us.

“The County of Los Angeles would be the most adversely impacted county in the nation,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai estimates that Los Angeles County stands to lose $1 billion in funding should the Affordable Care Act be repealed.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Barger tour Van Buren Center homeless shelter in Columbus, Ohio.

Also on the minds of county delegates are ways to combat homelessness and enhance local economic development. Biotech, one of the biggest boom industries of this century has found its way to Columbus, Ohio — now one of the leading cities in the nation for the growing industry. Chairman Ridley-Thomas toured Rev 1 Ventures, a 64,000 square foot business incubator that co-locates 25 tech and pharmaceutical startups, with a quarter of them being bioscience and biotech companies with the hope of inspiring similar ventures in Los Angeles County much like LA BioMed on the Harbor UCLA Campus.

Chairman Ridley-Thomas tours Rev 1 Ventures in Columbus, Ohio.