South LA doctors share health care realities

St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles
St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles
Arwen Nicks/KPCC

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As part of KPCC’s focus on health care reform, Patt Morrison visited St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles. While at St. John’s, Patt spoke with Chief Dental Officer Dr. Mona Iskandar and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Weekes. Here are their stories of health care realities and their hopes for health care reforms.

Both doctors emphasized St. John’s comprehensive care model, which allows patients to find medical treatment, mental and legal services all under one roof.

Dr. Iskandar’s husband once told her she could make a lot more money working as a dentist in a private office, but she says she has a passion for community dentistry and values the work she does every day at St. John’s.

“I have so many stories I can share with you, but one that comes to mind – a patient who came to see me for a toothache and she had survived a gunshot wound to her face by her boyfriend, lost her right eye, part of her lower right jaw," said Iskandar. "And she didn’t have anywhere to go for her toothache, because the Denti-Cal was cut off in July of 2009 and they refused to treat her.

“So she was looking for a place to get the rest of her treatment done – and she was very, very terrified, scared and shaking. And after the first visit, she came back two or three times. And she’s really happy, and comfortable and relaxed – she actually snoozes in the chair now.”

St. John’s comprehensive model means that, with such a widely experienced staff, a doctor can give a “warm hand-off” of a medical patient to, for example, a behavioral specialist, or to a legal services team in cases of domestic violence or coercion.

Dr. Weekes has also seen this firsthand. Oftentimes, patients come into the clinic for acute medical treatment, which ends up being only the tip of an iceberg in addressing a larger social problem.

“I had a little girl that just dropped in about four weeks ago, and she was on her way to school and a bullet went through her calf. It ended up being no big deal, and the cops said because she could still walk, and there was no blood.”

But it was a big deal, even if not physically. Dr. Weekes had finished her treatment of the patient, but now it was time to hand her off to the clinic’s behavioral specialist, Ms. Hernandez.

“She was a warm hand-off to Ms. Hernandez, because it was a big deal.”

For more stories from the front lines of health care, tune in to Patt Morrison this Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 1 p.m.