South LA residents rally to protect funding for community clinics

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageMore than 300 South Los Angeles residents, politicians and health care providers packed into the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center Wednesday night to take a stand against potential cuts that would make health care less accessible to thousands of residents.

Over plates of rice, beans and taquitos, people sat and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, spilling out into the street on the corner of Hoover and 58th. The temperature rose as did people’s passionate pleas to the Los Angeles County Supervisors: don’t cut funding to community clinics in South LA. The event was the kickoff of a campaign to protect community health clinics. SEIU United Healthcare Workers organized it and numerous other health organizations showed up to offer their support.

The five Los Angeles County Supervisors will vote in January on whether to end or extend funding to community clinics throughout LA County. The vote is expected to be tight.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pledged to protect clinic funding in South LA, was greeted with a standing ovation. In a rallying cry, he commanded the room:

“SEIU in the house? Who got the power?”

“We got the power!” the crowd responded.

“We are not prepared to allow any of our programs to be defunded,” Ridley-Thomas said. “In other words, we need all of what we have and then some, because frankly in South Los Angeles we are over due. Somebody ought to say overdue!”

imageMany attendees would be directly affected if clinics lost funding. Hattie Walker’s daughter Khadiya Walker has down syndrome and autism. Walker’s work doesn’t insure her and she pays medical costs out of pocket. Because of Khadiya’s special needs, Walker depends on health care funding. If costs were to increase, that would mean less food on the table.

“It’s horrible, it’s already up high enough for me,” she said. “I’m barely making it from check to check. But we all need health care, so I don’t really have a choice.”

Marlene Brand, a mammogram technician, says that an increase in health care costs will result in fewer people seeking medical attention for really problems. She has already seen this since the beginning of the recession in 2008. She says that it makes a huge difference in people’s quality of life and, in some cases, can mean the difference of life and death.

“It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen,” Brand says. “And it shouldn’t. Ever.”

The word of the night was equality. The cuts would disproportionately hurt South LA, where about 70 percent of the community have no private health insurance and depend on community clinics. Diabetes and heart disease rates are higher there than any other part of the county and the life expectancy is 10 years less in South LA than the national average.image“I believe that everyone has a right to get their medicine no matter what your income level is, your education level is,” Brand said. “The thing about it that is it could be your mom, your sister, your uncle, it could be someone in your family. Would you want to see them waste away or die because they don’t have money?”

If the cuts pass, South and East Los Angeles, the poorest areas of LA county, will be hardest hiss. South LA will lose $11 million. Among the providers that stand to lose the most is St. John’s clinics, which would lose $4 million, according to UHW media representative David Tokaji. He says that four of St. John’s clinics will likely shut down.

“God didn’t make any mistakes. We are all created in the image and likeness of God,” Ridley-Thomas said at the end of his talk. “Therefore we want first-rate care, we want the first draw of resources at our disposal. If we do that, we will have served all of these children well. And every single adult in this room has a responsibility to stand up for these children.”

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