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Promise of excellent medical care returns to South Los Angeles

Promise of excellent medical care returns to South Los Angeles

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I chose to write about the work taking place at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in the Watts area of South Los Angeles because of the urgent need to provide quality health care to inner city residents. Access to medical care in all of America’s inner cities is a pressing need, particularly in light of possibly drastic changes to Medicare and, in California, MediCal.

As a resident of South Los Angeles, the issues addressed in my story (i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity) have and continue to affect members of my immediate and extended family, as well as friends and associates through the years. Some people, such as my mom and grandparents, had Type 2 diabetes and/or high blood pressure and battled with these diseases until the end. They were fortunate to have had medical insurance and caregivers who looked after their daily needs, but so many inner city residents do not have such resources readily available to them. King Hospital is stepping in to fill that void.

In speaking with Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of King Hospital, she pointed out several times during our interview how the lack of family physicians in our inner cities is the biggest challenge to good health. She said her facility, and others in the region such as LA County USC Medical Center, White Memorial Hospital, and UCLA Harbor Medical Center, too often see patients when they are in the last throes of one or more of these diseases. Batchlor fears that proposed changes to Medicare availability will only result in a huge increase in emergency room visits, what the Affordable Care Act originally intended to curtail. Providing preventative care is the best method, she said, to help ward off potentially deadly diseases. Sadly, though, a high number of her patients are poor persons who rarely visit a doctor for a check-up because they either lack sufficient funds or have no medical insurance.

South Los Angeles is not the only region in Los Angeles County that witnesses terrible disparities in health maintenance. The Antelope Valley, an area that my publication (Our Weekly) covers, has the second-lowest rating in positive health outcomes in the southland. Earlier this year, just after the House of Representatives unveiled its American Health Care Act proposal, a medical clinic in Lancaster—about 70 miles north of South Los Angeles—saw about 250 patients each day experiencing any one of the aforementioned health issues, as well as asthma, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

The CEO of the Antelope Valley Community Clinic, James Cook, said he feared that any rollback of the ACA would result in more staff layoffs, long wait times for patients and a “halt to the progress” in regional health care improvement.

There is a connection between poor health outcomes in South LA and in cities like Lancaster and Palmdale. About 20 years ago, many South LA residents (e.g. those residing in public housing) moved to the Antelope Valley to escape gang violence, opt for better schools, and take advantage of new housing starts. While some of these people were able to put money down on a single-family home and reside there, most others moved into what is called “Section 8” housing.  This is a program operated by the Los Angeles County Housing Authority which pays the landlord a specific fee, and requires the renter to pay a smaller amount. Traditionally, these renters live below the poverty level and are on public aid. And unfortunately, they brought with them the same poor health conditions and outcomes they had experienced in South Los Angeles. Additionally, our immigrant population in Los Angeles County often suffers from poor health conditions and many of these individuals have also moved to the Antelope Valley.

It is clear that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has a difficult time in providing adequate health maintenance to low-income persons. That is why facilities like King Hospital—as well as Antelope Valley Hospital and the various medical clinics throughout the county—are so overburdened in their emergency rooms. The only way to curtail these visits is to have available preventative care and a staff of medical professionals who can address these health issues in a timely manner.

Those writers who may take on a story like this should interview the “front-line” medical personnel, and, importantly, have access to a local patient who may suffer from a specific health issue. Doctors can help reporters understand the best practices available to help remedy the illness, and find out from the patients what progress they have seen in their lives since diagnosis. Good communication between the doctor and patient can enhance a person’s quality of life and allow for them a better health outcome.

The story I submitted to the California Health Journalism Fellowship was an important part of the continued push toward good health. Yes, communities such as Watts, Compton, South Gate, Lynwood—basically south and southeast Los Angeles—have continued socio-economic challenges,  but one positive they have going for them is King Hospital and the dedicated doctors and staff who make it their life's work to provide excellent medical care to “the least among us.”

Dr. Batchlor said that many of her doctors could have worked anywhere in the nation. A number of these physicians, she noted, are Harvard-educated and graduated at the top of their respective classes. They chose to work in the inner city because of the need for first-class medical care. In judging from the response of people in the care of King Hospital, they can be confident that their health needs will be met and that their outlook for longevity is positive.

It was a challenge to gather all the necessary data and interviews needed to produce my story and sidebar. Doctors are very busy each day, but a dedicated reporter can work with any hospital’s public information officer—in my case a generous woman at King Hospital named Toby Robertson—who can assist in culling all of the pertinent information to allow for the best writing experience. And along the way, you’ll learn information that can be applied to your life, as well.

Hayes’ fellowship stories below:

Medical issues among African Americans encourage doctors to discover solutions

‘Take charge of your life’ is advice from stroke patient

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