In Long Beach: A chance for the poor to breathe easier
Thousands of families, children and elderly in underserved areas of west Long Beach will soon be visited in their homes, schools and community centers by health coaches who will help them identify and treat respiratory and cardiopulmonary diseases.
All free of charge, and all done from a mobile care clinic, a component of the “Breathe Easy” Mobile Outreach Program, a partnership between St. Mary Medical Center, the St. Mary Foundation and the Port of Long Beach, in an effort to reach the less fortunate --- many of them uninsured --- in an area plagued by pollution and few affordable healthcare centers.
The 38-foot, state-of-the-art Mobile Care Clinic was blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis during a March 1 ceremony at the hospital, attended by many civic and community officials. The clinic was made possible through an $834,000 grant from the Port of Long Beach, which offers funds for projects in the local area to address effects of the Port operations.
Services will start in April and will include screenings, diagnosis and education offered by physicians, nurse practitioners and respiratory therapists. It is expected that within the first year, more than 22,000 potential at-risk residents will be assisted by six St. Mary’s staff members, said St. Mary’s CEO Gail Daly.
“The mission of St. Mary is to provide healthcare for the underserved and poor population, so instead of having them come to us we are going to them,” she told The Tidings.
The idea of a mobile clinic first developed five years ago when hospital personnel identified an increasing number of uninsured patients, mostly single women with children, with no means for transportation and little access to health care in their low-income, polluted neighborhoods near Ocean Boulevard, the 710 Freeway and Del Amo Boulevard.
Other issues included lack of education regarding nutrition and easy, affordable ways to prevent chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. (One key component of the new clinic, in fact, will be home visitations by health coaches, whose main task will be education and information.)
But funding (about $50,000 per year) to run a mobile clinic was not available until officials learned about the grants offered by the Port, said Eleonor Cochran, St. Mary’s senior director of strategic operations and physician relations, who oversaw the project’s development.
“This is a real step forward to bring basic healthcare to that segment of the community for whom access to healthcare is challenging,” said Charity of the Incarnate Word Sister Gerard Earls, vice president, mission integration at the hospital founded by her religious order 89 years ago. The medical center is now a member of Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West.
Sister Earls said in years past people sought care at the hospital, but with more low-income families seeking assistance there is a “greater need to go out.” One of those communities, she said, is the Cambodian community in Long Beach, the largest in the world outside the Asian country.
“This is wonderful,” said Eunice Sato, former Long Beach mayor, who commended the Port for its support. “Air is very bad on the west side of the city and residents should get special attention; otherwise it will get worse.”
“Being mobile and reaching out are steps in the right direction,” said retired physician Dominic DeCristofaro, who practiced at St. Mary for 40 years. “We need more of these outreach programs.”
Tiffany Cantrell, St. Mary’s Foundation director of grants, said it was fulfilling to see the project take form “from paper to reality.”
For more information about St. Mary Medical Center’s services, call (888) 478-6279 or visit www.stmarymedicalcenter.org.