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First Virtual Bioscience Forum Addresses Urgent Health and Racial Crises

Scientists, engineers and executives from Los Angeles-based bioscience companies painted a vivid virtual picture of the industry’s racial inequities as well as the ability to save lives while creating jobs within the booming bioscience industry.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and BioscienceLA hosted the first ever virtual Bioscience Forum: Advancing Diversity and Equity.  The virtual Forum brought together thought leaders in the life sciences and healthcare industries to discuss steps to reverse healthcare disparities, increase minority representation, provide local jobs, and combat the world’s most vexing and urgent health crises.

“Not only is our country in the middle of a significant reckoning over its history of racism and injustice, but this reckoning is occurring during a pandemic that has not shown any signs of relenting,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “In the push for testing, vaccines, and therapies, bioscience will play a significant role in any path forward, but the truth is communities of color are significantly underrepresented in the life science industry, and innovations to solve our most vexing crises will suffer as a result.”

African Americans account for less than 4% of the bio sector workforce.  The numbers are even more discouraging at the executive level with less than 1% of African American representation. For the Latino community, just 5% are represented in non-executive roles and 3% in executive roles.

Years ago, bioscience did not have as strong of a presence in Los Angeles County, especially in the Second District, making it more difficult for constituents to connect with the job opportunities arising from the industry’s steady growth. But five years ago, that changed with a motion in 2015 by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Following the motion’s approval, the Board of Supervisors directed the County to study key industries for job growth and economic development. The result was the development of a Countywide Bioscience Initiative that included a goal to create a workforce pipeline to diversify the industry.

“The County recognizes the moral imperative of this mandate for equality and to that end we have funded and helped develop the Bio-Flex program,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. Bio-Flex, a first-in-the-nation apprenticeship training program, was launched in partnership with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Cal State Dominguez Hills, West LA College and the bioscience industry itself, including companies such as Bachem, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Takeda to prepare persons of color and the economically disadvantaged for jobs in the bioscience industry.

“Bio-Flex is an employer-driven system,” said South Bay Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Jan Vogel.  “It is a career pathway program allowing students to get on the job training.”

“I learned the value of job readiness and explored the intersections of business, chemistry and biology,” said Bio-Flex graduate Aria Fulton who is now pursing a degree in biology at Loyola Marymount University.

This year’s Forum was part of the comprehensive countywide effort to increase local opportunities in the field of bioscience, which is increasingly important during the current economic downturn. In March of this year the County announced the first Bioscience Investment Fund through a public private partnership with bioscience investment firm MarsBio.

“Supporting a cohesive innovation ecosystem requires a coordinated approach to funding, space, and talent, among other areas,” explained David J. Whelan, Chief Executive Officer of BioscienceLA. “The County’s commitment to growing the entire sector has jumpstarted so many related initiatives, including BioscienceLA, and the momentum is increasing rapidly. Diversity and inclusion can accelerate innovation, and we look forward to continuing today’s conversations.”

While this was the first virtual forum, it is the third event of its kind in the County.  Last year’s in person forum was held at that hot-house of high-tech innovation, Google’s Spruce Goose Hanger. Last year’s forum highlighted how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the medical field, with much of that transformative energy taking place in Los Angeles County.  And this year’s virtual forum was just one week after the first Los Angeles County Youth Bioscience Summit, focusing on ways Los Angeles County has invested in bioscience, highlighting strategies to be competitive for entry-level jobs and the various ways a degree in the life sciences touches a wide range of industries. Over 200 students from high schools and community colleges in Los Angeles County were in attendance.

“Our mission today is to explore ways that we can change this picture for a more inclusive tomorrow,” concluded the Supervisor.

Latino Heritage Month Spotlight: Twin Artists Take Twinning to a New Level

Nothing can come “betwin” these two sisters.

This Latino Heritage Month, we are recognizing two talented sisters, Arielle and Zoe Hernandez. Born and raised in Compton California, the two recently graduated from Compton College with a passion for designing diverse characters and creating content that people of all backgrounds can relate to.

“Latino Heritage Month to me, is a really good way to show everyone that they matter to this world and that the Latin culture is very beautiful. We as people, are loved, and our culture is celebrated,” said Zoe Hernandez

Cut from the same cloth, with a passion for the arts and culture is just one of the many things these sisters have in common.

“Having a twin sister, who shares my interests is a very empowering thing because they always say two is better than one, and in this case, it really helps me. We share our ideas and develop our ideas together and I think that’s amazing,” said Zoe Hernandez.

As they continue to take the proper steps to advance their artistic careers, Zoe and Arielle have no intentions of slowing down any time soon. While they both earned associate degrees from Compton Community College with an emphasis in arts and humanities, the artists plan to transfer to a university together to major in arts or animation in Spring 2021. Recently, the twins received acceptance letters from the University of Southern California and Otis College of Art and Design. They plan to take the fall semester off to research and apply to more universities, especially those with character design programs.

The saying, “It takes a village” couldn’t be truer, as these ladies owe all their success to their strong support system.

“I just encourage them to follow their dreams, so to hear that they got accepted at USC—it brought me to tears. We have hopes, our fingers are crossed, and I know that their artistic creativity will take them to the top,” said their mother, Marina Hernandez.

As they branch out into the world of the unknown amidst a pandemic, the Hernandez twins are unsure what the future will bring. However, the sisters are extremely hopeful for whatever lies ahead, especially as they know they always have each other. And we know that Zoe and Arielle Hernandez are truly destined for greatness.

“People give Compton a negative connotation which I do not appreciate, because this college has offered me and my sister so many opportunities. I feel like if I didn’t go to this college, I would not be as enthusiastic as I am with my goals and my career. It was fate that I came here with my sister,” said Arielle Hernandez.



Skilled Nursing Homes Under Scrutiny

The Inspector General and Auditor-Controller each released their initial report detailing their ongoing investigation into skilled nursing homes. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called it a critical first step towards improving operations at these facilities, which have accounted for about 42 percent of Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 death toll.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but the Inspector General and Auditor-Controller’s reports provide us with a starting point for tackling complex and deeply-entrenched problems that have plagued skilled nursing homes for decades,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who is scheduled tomorrow to bring 20,000 donated N95 masks, a decontamination kit, and mobile COVID-19 testing to skilled nursing homes and their employees. “We are undertaking the due diligence required to develop long-term solutions for improving quality of care at skilled nursing homes while simultaneously taking timely steps to promote the ongoing safety of both patients and staff.”

Overseen by the State of California but regulated locally by the County’s Department of Public Health (DPH), skilled nursing homes have been the epicenter of the pandemic in LA County, with about 16,000 infections and 2,500 deaths among patients and staff. In May, the Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Chair Kathryn Barger’s motion directing LA County’s Inspector General to investigate skilled nursing homes for the first time. They also tasked LA County’s Auditor Controller with monitoring the facilities and creating a public dashboard showing their COVID-19 case totals, testing frequency, mitigation plan status, personal protective equipment supply and other information. The dashboard went live in September.

In his first interim report back to the Board, Inspector General Max Huntsman examined skilled nursing homes’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts and provided an overview of existing regulatory and oversight structures. He said subsequent reports will analyze the long-standing, complex issues that left many skilled nursing homes ill-prepared to prevent and control the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the systemic failures that have allowed substandard conditions to persist.

“My office is conducting an exhaustive review of barriers to adequate care that have, in many instances, left nursing home residents neglected and abused,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said. “Our County’s most vulnerable residents deserve better, and we are committed to identifying and recommending all reforms necessary to give them the care they need. The pandemic has exacerbated systemic problems, and we need immediate responses and long-term solutions.”

After posting the dashboard about skilled nursing homes in September, Auditor Controller Arlene Barrera released her own first interim report, which highlighted the number of outstanding investigations into skilled nursing facilities. She noted that in addition to 5,407 open investigations, DPH’s Health Facilities Inspection Division (HFID) reported an additional 6,228 in-progress investigations related to other long-term care and short-term care health care facilities.

The Auditor Controller also confirmed that as of June 30th, HFID reported 10% of the 5,407 in-progress investigations had been prioritized at the level of “Immediate Jeopardy,” because the facility’s alleged non-compliance with one or more requirements has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.

Upcoming reports by the Inspector General and Auditor Controller are expected to include recommendations for addressing this backlog and for streamlining the process.

Creating A New Vision for Park Safety

As one of the largest public park systems in the nation that provides critical access to green space for millions of residents, the Board of Supervisor has taken steps to implement a community-informed public safety strategy for County Parks in the face of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) budget curtailments. This unanimously approved motion aims to prioritize a more equitable, safety-focused, anti-racist framework to reducing the harm caused by an over-reliance on law enforcement in our parks, and makes further investments in alternative crisis response and violence prevention strategies.

“Investing in parks, and the programming that occurs within these spaces, must be a critical part of our approach to promoting an anti-racist and more equitable Los Angeles County. However, we must also acknowledge that these spaces and services will only improve the quality of life for our residents if they are delivered in a safe and trauma-informed manner,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas “Given the Sheriff’s recent decision to curtail the Parks Services Bureau entirely, there is an immediate need to put a holistic and community-informed strategy in place so our parks can remain safe spaces for the community.”

Authored by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the motion authorizes the Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to address the resulting gap in public safety services caused by Sheriff Villanueva’s threat to close the Parks Services Bureau, and report back with alternative solutions, including the implementation of alternative crisis response staffing.

“Public safety is our priority, and it is our job to make sure that our parks stay safe for everyone,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “But public safety looks different for different people. I look forward to seeing the options provided in this report back.

“The Chief Executive Office is working closely with our departmental partners to make sure our residents can safely enjoy their parks,” said Acting Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport. “These are treasured green spaces where residents can enjoy recreation and nature, and we are committed to developing innovative short- and long-term approaches to ensure that residents’ quality of life is maintained and enhanced.”

“Parks make life better – but they can only do so if they are safe spaces – and we are committed to working with the families and stakeholders we serve to make sure that we continue to evolve and strengthen our strategies for community-focused policing strategies to ensure that is the case,” said Norma Edith García-González, Director of County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Parks are supposed to be spaces of safety and recreation and yet our communities are often on edge because of Sheriff presence and violence that occurs in our neighborhoods, including our local parks,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson, Founder of Frontline Wellness Network. “Moving resources out of the Sheriff’s budget and into the community will ensure that we protect our parks as safe havens for services while building our ability to respond to crisis and harm with strategies that build community and affirm life.”

Since 2009, LASD has provided community policing through its Parks Services Bureau. However, recently, the Sheriff has threatened to eliminate the program entirely and reallocate funds elsewhere despite the Board’s action to fund the budgetary gap. As a result, the Board is also calling for appropriate fiscal safeguards to be instituted to ensure that any funds provided to LASD to fund park services be used for the intended purpose.

Proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October

Every year, more than 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 1 in 100 men are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

Knowing what may contribute to breast cancer is an important part of its prevention – and everyone should speak with their health care provider about their risks and what they can do to mitigate those risks – including regular screenings and mammograms.

Especially in light of the uncertainty of the future of the Affordable Care Act, speaking with health care providers is even more important.

We take a moment, every October, to celebrate breast cancer survivors and those currently fighting this disease for their courage and resilience.

It is also important to note that across the nation and globe, significant progress has been made in the fight against breast cancer – and that research and innovation must continue in the months and years to come.

The dedicated providers and researchers working to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease through prevention, early detection, and scientific research should also be commended for their hard work.

The month should also serve as a critical reminder to all men and woman to take proactive efforts to monitor their health to prevent late-stage disease diagnoses.

We also take this moment to encourage women and men to follow the recommendations for monthly self-examination, annual check-ups and regular mammograms for early detections for breast cancer.