Recognizing Essential Health Workers in the Second District

In addition to supervising traffic control and maintaining his responsibilities to MLK Medical Campus, Rashod delivered water to those who were standing post, ensured his crew had breaks and lunch, and guided patients safely across the street.

Rashod Conkrite: Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center

In the midst of a global pandemic, healthcare workers have become our everyday heroes. But doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones working tirelessly to battle COVID-19. Many other individuals who are not in the medical professions have stepped up to support the health and wellbeing of the people in the Second District.

During the month of August, this series will recognize some of the essential, yet non-traditional, health workers who courageously stand on the front lines of this crisis and make a significant contribution to their communities.

Spotlight on Martin Luther King Jr., Medical Campus: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Medical Campus has been home to LA County COVID-19 testing sites. Thousands of residents and families have visited the sites to gain access to free testing and slow the spread of the virus.

Recently, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas visited the MLK Outpatient Center to distribute 100,000 N-95 masks and thousands of care kits with food and hand sanitizer in a partnership with the private sector to help communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The MLK Outpatient Center is where hundreds of patients are triaged daily at the testing Surge Tent. Those who arrive in their vehicles are welcomed by Rashod Conkrite.

Meet Rashod Conkrite: Rashod is the Carpenter Supervisor for MLK Outpatient Center. He was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, and lives across the street from the home where he grew up, which his parents still own.

After spending years in the private sector, Rashod pursued a career in carpentry so he can better support his family. Originally just a hobby, carpentry turned into a calling for Rashod when he discovered that he had a gift to see beyond the tangible, to envision, to create —and ultimately to build.

Upon completing trade technical school, the County of Los Angeles hired Rashod as a Carpenter in 2016. Within just two years, his gift for carpentry and leadership earned him a promotion to Carpenter Supervisor at MLK Outpatient Center, where he worked to fulfill the facility’s mission statement: “building and maintaining a safe and comfortable environment that ensures quality health care for our patients.”

Even though Rashod may not wear a white coat, the infrastructure he and his carpentry shop continue to build is deeply important to supporting the treatment and healing of patients. When the pandemic prompted MLK Medical Campus to host testing sites, Rashod was called upon to supervise traffic control at the drive-through testing queue, and help manage the information provided to patients.

Rashod’s Perspective:

To Rashod, carpentry is a career that has its rewards in serving the community and making people smile.

“We make sure that patients get the care that they need by making sure that the health care workers providing that care also get what they need, whether it be a new desk or building something,” said Rashod. “When we make the health care workers’ jobs easier, it reflects when they take care of patients.”

Serving the community during a pandemic, however, is a challenge. With managing staff, community walk-ups, drive-through testing, testing appointments and interacting with hundreds of people daily who are concerned with their health and safety, Rashod’s work is not easy.

Despite the exhausting demands the pandemic has placed on Rashod and his carpentry team, Rashod is proud to help during strenuous times. “It can be overwhelming; however, it has established a fortitude in me that can never be broken and provides me with the comfort of knowing that by being a part of a team at MLK Outpatient Center, I’m making a mark that cannot be erased.”

A Typical Day for Rashod:

Before the pandemic hit, Rashod’s days typically consisted of carpentry work and maintenance work. Now, in response to COVID-19, Rashod and his shop have been charged with safely guiding sometimes up to 1,000 people a day through the testing site in their cars.

“We were no longer doing what we were hired to do as carpenters,” said Rashod in response to his duties shifting in the wake of the pandemic, which have been instrumental in increasing access to testing in the Second District. “Seeing how many people came to get the care and testing they needed—including people with disabilities who couldn’t stand in line—really stuck with me.”

Thanks to Rashod and his carpentry shop, some of the most vulnerable residents in LA County are able to access testing that will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.

Masks for St. John’s Clinic and Southern St. Paul Church

Need a mask? We’ve got you covered.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has partnered with Operation USA and Servicon to distribute 50,000 masks throughout Los Angeles County’s Second District, which will include other healthcare services sites related to COVID-19 such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook, over the coming weeks.

He recently distributed the first 500 masks to Southern St. Paul Church while it was hosting a COVID-19 mobile testing site operated by St. John’s Well Child and Family Clinic, which received 2,000 masks from the partnership to provide to staff and communities.

“COVID-19 is serious,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We have an obligation to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, and our community. That’s what this is about, and I’m pleased to be here with partners from the private sector, the non-profit sector, the faith-based community.”

“We’re joining forces to make sure our community is safe, healthy, and empowered,” he added. “We’re encouraging congregants, community members, parishioners, and providers to take advantage of this extraordinary distribution.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Operation USA President and CEO Richard Waldren, Servicon President Michael Mahdesian, Southern St. Paul Pastor Xavier Thompson, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center President and CEO Jim Mangia, and St. John’s mobile clinic testing staff to distribute 2,500 masks at the site.

Operation USA was the first American group that went back into Vietnam after the war to provide airlifts of medical aid. As a reciprocal gesture for the aid they received over 40 years ago, the Vietnamese have sent over 2 million masks to Operation USA.

Operation USA President and CEO Richard Waldren said, “Our message is mask up—it’s very important. Without a therapeutic or a vaccine for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to get used to wearing masks.” Waldren added that having Servicon’s facilities near Operation USA’s warehouse has facilitated the transport of thousands of masks.

Servicon, an environmental services company that disinfects hospitals and clinics, has been supporting Operation USA’s mask distribution efforts with its vehicles and staff. “We want to help the most vulnerable, as well as the workers on the frontlines and in medical centers,” Servicon President Michael Mahdesian said.

Southern St. Paul Church Pastor Xavier Thompson and St. John’s President and CEO Jim Mangia gratefully received the masks and vowed to distribute them to thousands of people they serve.

“In the midst of this pandemic we have so much to be thankful for,” Pastor Thompson said. “We love this community, we love the work, we love being servants of the people. Shout out to St. John’s Well Child and Family Center that is partnering with the Supervisor and serving the community.”

St. John’s mobile testing site at Southern St. Paul Church is one of many set up around LA County to test communities free of charge.

The masks arrival is timely as St. John’s clinic has been ramping up testing capabilities. “It’s clear that with the health disparities the people in Central and South LA face, we really need to advance and improve the access to testing,” said Mangia, whose clinics are set up in the most vulnerable parts of the County. “In partnership with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and pastors and reverends from churches throughout South and Central LA, we’re expanding testing and testing hundreds of people every day.”

St. John’s testing sites test hundreds of LA County residents each day.

LA County provides free testing, including to those without health insurance. There are plans to expand testing services at the Forum in Inglewood, and to establish new sites in Ladera Heights, Compton, and Willowbrook.

With communities of color disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, LA County is removing barriers to access to healthcare—from testing to obtaining personal protective equipment.

All LA County residents who believe they should be tested should first call their primary care provider. Residents without a provider are strongly encouraged to visit COVID19.lacounty.gov/testing to find their nearest testing site and make an appointment for free testing.

Protecting Front Lines One Worker at a Time

As LA County reaches a new high in COVID cases, so does the global demand for medical supplies. Limited access to medical equipment, has left doctors, nurses and frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients. As a result, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recently partnered with Air Premia to donate protective medical gowns.

“I’m glad to partner with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) and the (CNHF )—a hospital that has been helping so many people who are suffering from the coronavirus—as well as the non-profit community health clinic in South Los Angeles,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is how Los Angeles works. We support each other. Here we are in Koreatown reaching all the way into Southeast Los Angeles and saying, ‘you matter, we care, we have the resources, and we are going to collaborate.”

The Personal protective equipment donation courtesy of the Air Premia company, a new airline in Korea that has plans to launch a route from LAX to Korea in 2021 of next year, was given to MLKCH and CNHF at the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. Each organization received 100 gowns each.

“Air Premia’s mother company owns a factory that provides medical supplies for coronavirus cases. The company wanted to help out, so they asked us to find the best organization to donate the items to. We thought the County hospital would be best, so I talked to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to see if they would be willing to take the items and he agreed. Pretty soon they will be sending masks—professional masks for hospital use. They promised to send 10,000 masks, so we will keep helping the community and County hospitals,” stated Air Premia representative, Kee Whan Ha.

One of the donation recipients, CNHF is a full-service Federally Qualified Health Center community provider with access points in Los Angeles, Riverside and  San Bernardino counties. Their clinics provide care to medically underserved areas (MUAs) in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, where patient populations endure disproportionate physical and mental suffering and premature death. President and Chief Executive Officer for Central Neighborhood Health Foundation, Dr. Kenneth Orduna had this to say about receiving the receiving the protective gear.

“First of all, I want to thank Air Premia for donating these suits for us and Supervisor for facilitating this donation. As a safety net for the underserved communities in Los Angeles, these suits are going to help us tremendously. It’ll protect our frontline workers. It’ll give a sense of protection that we need. There is currently a shortage of suits. I was just at my medical supply vendor yesterday trying to acquire some suits and they were out. They didn’t know when they were going to get any, so this came in just at the right time, at the right moment, so we will continue to test our folks.”

This donation also represents the partnership between Los Angeles and Korea in taking care of their citizens. “I am the Consulate General of Korea in LA and my duty is to protect Korean Americans here—everything from their health, their education, their leadership—almost everything. There are many Korean Americans here who have US citizenship, some who are also Korean citizens. The Korean government can’t do anything about American society, so if we need something and we have Korean Americans here, we ask LA County to support [us]. I am happy that we are able to be a part of this partnership, to protect Korean Americans and Korean society here from COVID-19,” said Consul General, Kyung Jae Park.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas partners with Representatives from Air Premia to donate protective medical gowns.

Revitalizing the Vermont Corridor to Serve the Community

As the Vermont Corridor project in Koreatown approaches its countdown to completion in 2021, visitors were treated to a tour to view the project’s substantial progress. Approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2018, this project will serve as the future headquarters for the County of Los Angeles Departments of Mental Health (DMH) and Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services (WDACS).

The new building will help enhance County service delivery while operating sustainably and integrating meaningful and culturally sensitive features of its surrounding community. Gensler, the project’s architect, has designed a state-of-the-art energy efficient glass façade with shading aluminum fins oriented in a diagonal pattern and a 360-degree view of Los Angeles at each office level of the 21-story building. The project is also designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification upon its completion.

Dr. Jonathan Sherin and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas visit the terrace level to view the building’s unique and energy-saving exterior.

The new $305M building that broke ground in 2018 reflects the County’s commitment to invest in the health and well-being of communities. The design ensures its constituents and employees alike can be surrounded by an environment that instills dignity, which is of utmost importance for providing community services such as mental health support. The lobby will host a peer resource center and walk-in mental health services ranging from prevention to recovery.

“The County of Los Angeles is part of the revitalization of communities. It means from an economic point of view, from a cultural point of view, and from the perspective of removing the stigma of mental health—this is a monument to self-esteem and self-worth,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the lead author of the motion for this project.

“It makes a real statement about the importance of mental health—the mental health of our entire community—in particular those who have suffered for too long and have not had the dignity that a building like this and its resources would bring,” said Director of DMH, Dr. Jonathan Sherin, after the tour.

Participants of the tour were able to clearly envision the new opportunities that will be provided to engage the community with resources and support in a compelling environment. Notably, the new facility will enhance and streamline service delivery, particularly to the most vulnerable in the community that DMH and WDACS is committed to serving.

Having both DMH and WDACS headquartered at the same site will enable the departments to significantly improve operational efficiencies and generate cost savings for the County.

“Bringing administrative and programmatic offices in one single building allows for better communication,” said Otto Solarzano, Acting Director of WDACS. Solarzano also noted how this new environment will be conducive to generating creativity and extending the ability of County employees to provide services.

“I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the community,” said Johng Ho Song, President of the Korean Youth and Community Center as he highlighted how this project has spurred collaboration between the County, local non-profits, and the community. “I learned they are going to incorporate direct services in this building and we are going to have this building be a part of the community—I’m really looking forward to that,” commented Song.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joins Steve Kang from the Korean Youth and Community Center (KYCC), President of KYCC Johng Ho Song, and Executive Director of Special Service for Groups Herbert K. Hatanaka at the lobby construction site.

Earlier this year, Korean American Artist Suzy Taekyung Kim received a major grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture to adorn the ground level with public art to provide a warm welcome to all who visit with her “Canopy of Blooms.” Kim’s art will convey the unique identity of Koreatown that celebrates multi-generational life stories and the endless cycle of life.

Since construction started, the project has employed over 2,400 construction workers with nearly half of the construction workers hired locally. One of these workers is Sylvia Lachapelle, who was recently featured in an installment of the Second District Essential worker series. Sylvia joined the tour and explained how her work to support the intricate electric needs of the building were part of the building’s progress, particularly in the office spaces that will house the work of County employees.

“I think it is a wonderful thing for them to be able to hire people straight from my local community. It feels amazing to be able to say I contributed to the community, and that it’s been a blast just to see how things go up and turn into something wonderful and beautiful that can serve the community,” said Lachapelle.

“This is a big shot in the arm from the economic development perspective,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas when speaking about thousands of jobs associated with this project. “That then will feed the environment with restaurants and other business opportunities.”

The next phases of the Vermont Corridor project will include much-needed affordable housing: 72-unit development and supportive services reserved for economically vulnerable seniors. Another feature of future senior housing project is a 12,500 square foot community center that will be operation by the YMCA. Additional market-rate housing and retail space will also be built to further activate the socioeconomically and culturally diverse neighborhood.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, partners, and community leaders made their way to the top of the Vermont Corridor project.

 

Let’s keep our promise to South L.A.