South LA clinic advocates for patients

A child's picture showing them at St. John's.
A child's picture showing them at St. John's.
Arwen Nicks/KPCC

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While the nation grapples with how best to provide quality health care to uninsured and underserved Americans, a community clinic in South Los Angeles is offering a workable model.

As part of KPCC's focus on health care reform, our own Patt Morrison visited St. John's Well Child and Family Center, a non-profit health care clinic and the primary health care source for more than 100,000 people annually.

St. John's operates on a comprehensive care model, incorporating medical services, dentistry, access to a free on-site pharmacy, mental health services, prenatal care, classes on cooking and nutrition, social advocacy and legal services – all under one roof.

It's this comprehensive model that attracts practitioners such as Dr. Rishi Manchanda, who is St. John's director of social medicine. He shared the following story about a patient the clinic was able to serve in a way that traditional, private practice models of health care could not.

"A couple months ago we had a patient who came in – a 4-year-old child, for a physical," said Manchanda. "His mother had no real concerns about his health. We asked, as all the providers do, you know, 'How are you, mom?' and she started breaking down in tears, talking about the fact that her leukemia – she's a young woman, [with] chronic leukemia, getting cared for at one of our county facilities. She spoke about how she was about to run out of pills for her leukemia, because of some glitch in her insurance status.

"This is a Friday 4 p.m. story – one of those things that providers across the country will tell you, 'Well what do we do?' And you start sweating, as providers, when you hear this kind of story. How do we take care of this patient?

"But here at St. John's, we were able to immediately get her into this network of care, so we had a behavioral health who, right away, started to talk to her and was able to assuage her concerns. We had medical legal partnerships with public interest lawyers, who work with us from neighborhood legal services, who immediately started to work on the case with her.

"Within about an hour and a half, this woman, who was fearful about losing her lifesaving chemotherapy, was guaranteed access to her medicines. We abdicated for her in a way that I think traditional biomedical, private practice models of health care just aren't capable of doing.

"So imagine, for your listeners out there, walking into the doctor's office and knowing that you can access dental health, access mental health, access advocacy when you need it. That's the best standard of care."

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