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Health Deserts Go Away: Redefining Healthcare at South L.A.'s MetroHealth Station

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This is part of a series exploring environmental and health issues in South Los Angeles, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.
In South Los Angeles, more than a quarter of Latinos reported that obtaining medical care when needed is somewhat or very difficult.

Twenty-nine percent of African Americans were diagnosed with depression.

Thirty nine percent of South Angelenos could not obtain dental care such as basic cleanings, because they could not afford it.

One third perceive their general health status as poor.

"The situation is getting worse, not better," says Dr. Katherine Sullivan, MetroHealth Station's president and CEO.

Located in South Los Angeles' Jefferson Park District, MetroHealth Station is situated right in the heart of a "health desert," as coined by Dr. Sullivan. Health deserts are areas designated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as medically underserved since there is a shortage of primary care providers, a high infant mortality rate, and a larger number of people live in poverty or are elderly. It is Dr. Sullivan's mission to eradicate these health deserts one zip code at a time.

"I chose to open MetroHealth Station in Jefferson Park because this is one of the areas in Los Angeles where healthcare professionals are needed," Dr. Sullivan said.

Local residents enroll and gather information at MetroHealth Station | Photo courtesy of MetroHealth Station
Local residents enroll and gather information at MetroHealth Station | Photo courtesy of MetroHealth Station

The voices of individuals who need healthcare echo in the front lobby of MetroHealth Station on a daily basis. One afternoon, a Spanish-speaking mother walked through its front doors, wanting to know more about how the health professionals located there could help her seven-year-old daughter, who needed oral care, and her teenage son who is autistic. Another day, a local contractor who was a patient at a local medical clinic came into see if he was eligible for services. The medical clinic where he was a patient unexpectedly shut down.

This month, MetroHealth Station opened its doors to help the mother, contractor and about 800 other individuals seeking health and wellness care for their medical, dental, physical and behavioral healthcare needs. MetroHealth Station takes health and wellness care to a new level with its interprofessional team of doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, physical therapists, and occupational therapists who are dedicated to the mission.

MHS's director of physical therapy, Anita Correa, MPT, assisting a patient on the treadmill
MHS's director of physical therapy, Anita Correa, MPT, assisting a patient on the treadmill

Dr. Brian Prestwich, M.D., MetroHealth Station's vice president of health home services, and director of family medicine, believes that the inteprofessional team, not more doctors, are critical to a patient's health outcome. "The solution is not to train more doctors, but to include an interprofessional care team and supported by powerful health informatics technology, such as the one that has been developed at MetroHealth Station," Dr. Prestwich said. "This approach allows one doctor to care for two to three times the number of lives that can be well cared for in a physician-centric medical practice."

MetroHealth Station is actively building a coalition of healthcare providers, community members and government officials to support its mission, including the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce and LAUSD's Foshay Learning Center.

MetroHealth Station also seeks to employ residents of South Los Angeles, by offering professional and administrative positions. Jessica [last name withheld], a local resident who recently started her career as a registered nurse, applied for a position there. "I am interested in working at MetroHealth Station because I believe in their concept and I think this will be really great for the community," she said.

Sharon Turner, a medical assistant who lives near the MetroHealth Station, is excited about having MetroHealth Station close to home. She participated in the job fair offered on August 6, and recently volunteered for the Eligibility Fair, held on September 6. "We don't have a place like this over here, I am just so impressed. I am volunteering here today because I believe in what they are doing," Turner said. "Once people see that this is a place where you can go to see the doctor, get your teeth done, get physical therapy, and if you need it, talk to somebody about their feelings, when people realize they can come right here and get all of these things done, this place is going to be booming."

MetroHealth Station's flagship, state-of-the-art facility is located on the corner of Crenshaw and West Jefferson Boulevards and is walking distance from Metro bus and rail lines. More information can be found here.

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