Eradicating HIV in LA County and Beyond

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Dr. Robert Redfield, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ opening remarks at a meeting on HIV Prevention with  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  Director Dr. Robert Redfield and other  federal and Los Angeles County public health officials.

“The fact that Dr. Redfield– a preeminent leader in HIV research and programs–is the director of the CDC says a lot about CDC’s commitment to eradicating HIV, and LA County is dedicated to being a partner in its efforts.

“HIV and STIs have been, and will continue to be, my priority policy areas, especially considering their disproportionate impact among communities of color.

“To that end, my staff and I have worked closely with many of you here for years. And while there has been a mix of good news and bad news over the years, I want to recognize the progress that we’ve made and must continue to make.

“For example, it cannot be taken for granted that as government agencies, we are addressing HIV in the context of health equity, and squarely acknowledging the sexism, racism, homophobia and classism that impact our systems of care. DPH continues this conversation through the Office of Health Equity, and also by publishing its City and Community Health Profile Report which compare and contrast the health data of various communities throughout Los Angeles County.

“This report looks at the various social determinants of health, which show that life expectancy, disease transmission and other health factors are complexly intertwined with access to food, parks, and housing security. Activities like this continue to push the dialogue on health disparities and social determinants in a way that is interdisciplinary and comprehensive.

“Additionally, we are seeing more youth engaging in advocating for their own reproductive health, and leading the conversation about their bodies, their safety, and their health. This is why we must continue to invest more in school-based health centers, as well as outreach, education, and empowerment programs for our youth. To that end, our Departments of Public Health and Mental Health are working collaboratively with school districts to see how we can bring more investment into our schools.

“While we celebrate these markers of progress, we also understand the gravity of the work yet to be done. For example, the advancement of biomedical tools has increased our arsenal to combat HIV infection, and have also contributed to the repeal of California’s HIV Transmission Law last year. And yet, despite the availability of PrEP and PEP, new infections among certain communities are still high, particularly among African-American men and women.

“Preliminary findings from a National Institutes of Health-funded study by Dr. Cynthia Davis at Charles Drew University demonstrated that there is a need for greater education on PrEP and PEP in the African-American community among at-risk individuals. Major concerns expressed with PrEP and PEP had to do with the cost of use these interventions; side effects; PrEP’s inability to provide protection from other STIs; difficultly of maintaining adherence; and stigma. Study participants also mentioned that there was limited education available on the benefits of PrEP, and there was almost total lack of knowledge on PEP. These preliminary findings give us great cause for pause, and to reevaluate our messaging and outreach to at-risk communities. We must invest more in targeted and culturally-competent outreach programs.

“On top of these continuing health disparities, new challenges are posed by the dramatic changes in the ways individuals connect via new technology and media. Government programs often do not lead on these trends, but we must act faster if we want to make our messages relevant. That means using social media, producing culturally relevant messaging, and working collaboratively with technology, media and entertainment companies.

“Additionally, like many other cities, LA County is contending with an unprecedented homelessness crisis, which directly impacts the work that DPH and other services providers are doing to  protect the health of our residents, both housed and unhoused.

“While we will dive deeper into many of these challenges today, I commend the work and dedication of everyone here to meet those challenges. I look forward to what I’m sure will be a robust and meaningful discussion on this issue, and for future collaborations.”

Ending Child Poverty Bus Tour Kick-off

St. Johns CEO and President, Jim Mangia, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Autumn Burke, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in front of the Child Poverty Bus. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

More than 200 people gathered at the Frasyer Clinic Parking Lot of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center (SJWCFC) for the kick-off of the “End Child Poverty Bus Tour.” The tour, led by the “End Child Poverty in California” coalition, for its Los Angeles stop, featured an array of elected officials, community members and leaders, local parents, and anti-poverty advocates. Standing in front of the bus that will carry anti-child poverty advocates all the way to Sacramento, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Gov. Newsom, St. Johns CEO and President, Jim Mangia, and other elected officials and community leaders spoke at length on the moral urgency of confronting child poverty.

“In the words of MLK Jr.: ‘The curse of poverty has no justification in our age.’ The “End Child Poverty Plan” is an important first step to reducing child poverty in our state.” said Los Angeles County Board Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It also directly connects to our efforts in combatting homelessness. It sends a clear message that our work must be bold and our policy agenda must be steady to lift children and families out of poverty.”

“This is a state that is the richest but also the poorest in the nation. When we talk in terms of child poverty, the number of children living below or near the poverty level is nearly than half of the children of this state,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. “But we finally have a plan for the millions of Californians who deserve more and we’re talking about implementing this plan in a strategic and nuanced way. This is about doing justice to our ideals.”

State legislation that created the “Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force” to develop an anti-poverty plan was released just before Governor Newsom and legislature took their oaths of office in January. The “End Child Poverty in California” Coalition has rallied people and organizations and lobbied elected officials to adopt the Task Force’s End Child Poverty Plan, which would end deep child poverty in just four years when fully implemented. The plan would also reduce overall child poverty by 50 percent over the next decade.

“We are doing this because there almost two million children living in poverty. We are going to change that,” said Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center. “This is a movement that is powered by a coalition that comes together under the End Child Poverty California coalition that combines the strength of organization and the plan from the Task Force with the wisdom and commitment of elected officials.”

Governor Newsom recently released his May revised budget which includes investments to address deep child poverty. The End Child Poverty Bus Tour’s aim is to highlight this start and create the necessary momentum to pass the Governor’s budget and the End Child Poverty Plan-related legislation this year and next. The coalition on the bus will make stops and hold open press events in Los Angeles, Pomona, Weedpatch, Fresno, Salinas, Oakland, and Sacramento.

Breaking Ground on a First-of-its-Kind Child and Wellbeing Center in South LA

Hundreds of people came out to celebrate as Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led the groundbreaking ceremony for the first-of-its-kind Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center, slated to open in Willowbrook in April 2020.

The three-story, 55,000 square foot building will have a Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic on the first floor, an Autism Wellness Center on the second floor, and a Family Justice Center on the third floor, staffed by several Los Angeles County Departments and community-based service providers to maximize collaboration and service integration.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“This Center represents the latest in a series of transformational investments in human infrastructure,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We are continuing our commitment to the health of the mind, body and soul of this community. I contend that these are the most critical investments we can make, especially when we focus on children, adolescents, and families.”

The first floor of the Child and Family Well-being Center will replace the three trailers currently serving as the MLK Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic, which provides outpatient clinical services for at-risk pediatric and adolescent patients and their families. The County Departments of Health Services (DHS), Mental Health (DMH), Public Health (DPH), and Children and Family Services (DCFS) will all have staff at the new Center to provide services such as pediatric and adolescent health care for foster youth, and forensic medical examinations, hearing and vision screenings, trauma-informed mental health services, family visitation, and Parent-Child Interactive Therapy.

“The MLK Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic on the MLK Medical Campus is one of the busiest in the County’s system, situated in the region of LA County with the highest density of DCFS cases and managing over 8,000 referrals a year,” County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly said. “Given its critical role in evaluating and caring for children in the DCFS system, DHS is thrilled to be breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art facility that will allow for an expanded set of services that will be provided in an integrated, collaborative manner by County and community-based organizations. Through greater partnership, we will be able to better meet the comprehensive health needs of these most vulnerable children.”

Breaking ground for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“The MLK Child and Family Well-being Center is very specifically designed to help DCFS succeed in addressing a multitude of the challenges faced by those engaged in the child welfare system, with a particular focus on the prevention and mitigation of trauma,” County Mental Health Director Jonathan Sherin said. “It heralds a new era of partnership between key LA County departments and the private sector, recognizing that we must always put the wellbeing of our kids and households at the center of everything we do.”

The second floor will house an Autism Wellness Center operated by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, and the Special Needs Network (SNN). The Autism Wellness Center will provide comprehensive screening, medical, dental, and behavioral health services for special needs children, teens and adults. Other high quality services will include Applied Behavior Analysis, speech and occupational therapies, outdoor sports courts, a yoga center and music, technology and creative spaces.

“Finally, South Los Angeles will have a state-of-the-art health and development center for children with autism and their families that will provide high quality medical and dental care as well as developmental services to an area and a population that has lacked these critical services for far too long,” St. John’s Well Child and Family Center CEO Jim Mangia said. “St. John’s is honored to partner with SNN and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create this unique and comprehensive program.”

SNN founder and president Areva Martin speaks. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“If you should speak to anyone affected by autism, a learning, intellectual or developmental disability, chances are you will hear stories of hidden suffering, shame and discrimination in nearly every sector of their lives. The SNN Autism Wellness Center seeks to change that,” SNN founder and president Areva Martin said. “Through a holistic approach and comprehensive mix of personal and community health and justice, this one-of-a-kind center will provide the kinds of much needed early diagnostic and intervention services sorely missing in communities of color—the kinds that will have a lasting impact on the health of the entire County of Los Angeles.”

The third floor will house a Family Justice Center where a multi-disciplinary team of professionals will work together, under one roof, to provide supportive services to those affected by domestic, family, intimate partner, and sexual violence.

“We are grateful to be working with our County partners to establish the Family Justice Center,” County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “This wonderful resource for families and children in South LA will help residents confronting domestic violence, not just to assure immediate safety and legal needs, but also to promote long-term family health and well-being.  The Family Justice Center will apply the family-centered, compassionate, culturally-competent approach of the Well-being Center to families for whom domestic violence may be occurring against a back-drop of poverty, racism and other forms of social marginalization.

The MLK Child and Family Well-being Center is the latest addition to a still-expanding MLK Medical Campus, which already includes the MLK Community Hospital, MLK Outpatient Center, MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center, MLK Recuperative Care Center, and MLK Center for Public Health. MLK Medical Office Building is currently under construction, and plans are underway for the MLK Behavioral Health Center.

Renderings of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Mental Health Conference Promotes Engaging and Empowering Communities

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas addresses 1200 attendees at the 2019 African American Mental Health Conference on February 28, 2019. All photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first black woman president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas made opening remarks to a packed room of 1,200 people attending the 2019 African American Mental Health Conference held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles.  Every year, the conference brings together mental health and allied professionals, policy makers, consumers and stakeholders to improve awareness regarding mental health issues and its impact on families and communities. This year’s conference, hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health with the goal of “Engaging and Empowering Communities through Education, Advocacy, and Action,” featured  keynote addresses by Altha J. Stewart, M.D. and Bryant T. Marks, Sr., Ph.D., two internationally renowned scholars and practitioners in the field of mental health and social issues that concern African Americans.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ remarks to the 1,200 attendees are below:

“Our theme today is “Engaging and Empowering Communities through Education, Advocacy, and Action.” As you know, the Empowerment Congress is an experiment in civic engagement that I started many years ago. Together, we have harnessed community advocacy and activism to influence government policy on a range of complex issues – so engaging and empowering communities is a good thing!

“We had the 27th annual Empowerment Congress Summit at Charles R. Drew University this year – and we saw the physical manifestation of empowerment and engagement transforming communities. Part of the ongoing transformation of communities includes reinvigorating the Second District with state-of-the-art spaces designed for mental health recovery, wellbeing and reintegration including:

  • Behavioral Health Center: Repurposing the old MLK hospital into a first-of-its-kind interdepartmental project – designed to supply the complete arc of restorative care to promote personal recovery and community reintegration;
  • Wellbeing Center: Creating interdisciplinary, trauma-informed responses to ensure the safety and health of kids and families involved in the Child Welfare system;

    (left to right) LA County Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, LA County Mental Health Commissioner with Lived Experience Reba Stevens, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

  • Women’s Reintegration: Doubling down investments in justice-involved women who need specialized services to heal after incarceration, and opportunities to build new futures for themselves and their families;
  • CDU Psychiatric Residency Program: Creating a robust pipeline of the best and brightest doctors who will lift up and lead their own neighborhoods and DMH communities; and
  • DMH Headquarters: The ground-breaking took place in October – a capstone project incorporating a peer-run drop-in center – showcasing DMH values inside and out!

“Since we are talking about African American mental health, I should mention the public launch of a new report that examined homelessness among African Americans. Everyone should read the report and its 67 recommendations.

“If our region is to prosper, it is not only a moral mandate, it is an absolute economic imperative that all who call Los Angeles home are able to attain their full measure of dignity, self-worth and self-determination. Let’s continue to engage and empower each other and remember that Each Mind Matters and “No one is well until we are all well.”


Innovative Program Taking Big Steps to Help Patients with Diabetes


Diabetes casts a pall on the lives of more than 4 million Californians – a startling 15 percent of the state’s adult population – and communities of color are disproportionately affected.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites. They are also more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, blindness, lower extremity amputations, and death.

Besides ravaging their bodies, diabetes also ravages their wallets. People living with diabetes have more than double the medical expenses of those not stricken with the disease. And the indirect cost attributed to their lost productivity is estimated at $9.5 billion, a staggering statistic that affects our economic stability.

Throughout my 27 years of public service, I have strived to take on this public health crisis with initiatives ranging from outreach and treatment to promoting behavior change and looking to the horizon for what is next. This includes investing in American Diabetes Association multilingual awareness days and community outreach efforts, and convening the annual Care Harbor LA mega-clinic which provides about 3,000 people with primary and specialty care, including Type 2 Diabetes management and prevention. Meanwhile, the top-notch staff at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus not only treats diabetes but also works to prevent it with programs that fight obesity, a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes.

There has been progress but, as this crisis takes on another dimension, I have grown even more determined to find help for our most vulnerable constituents. I am heartened to see the work that Eli Lilly and Co. has done to help make diabetes medications more affordable. The Lilly Diabetes Solution Center, which opened just this August, provides options to people who need help paying for their insulin, including people with lower incomes, the uninsured, and the insured but paying high deductibles in a high-deductible insurance plan. Besides offering discounts, the company is also donating insulin for ultimate distribution to nearly 150 free clinics across the country.

It is important that we have tools like this in our collective arsenal to combat diabetes, a silent killer that is devastating the health of so many of our communities. We need to develop more innovative programs to defeat this public health crisis one patient at a time.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the Second District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. This article is republished with permission from the LA Sentinel.