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A Heart for South Los Angeles

Looking at data from UCLA about health and health access in South Los Angeles, I can’t say that I was shocked. After working for 9 years in community clinics in South LA, I knew that the need for health care was great. We would turn people away every day, and every week I heard a new story of someone with an out of control chronic illness who had received no medical care for more than a year due to not being able to “afford care” or not knowing where to go. 

But this data from South Los Angeles, from “service planning area 6 (SPA 6)”, was even worse than I thought: more than 40% of adults without health insurance, 34% of people with no usual source of care, 36% of people in fair or poor health, 71% of people with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Just yesterday at my daughter’s soccer game I was looking across the street at the only remaining hospital in South Los Angeles (St Francis Medical Center), which serves a geographic area of about a million people—giving thanks that it is still open, praying for strength for its workers who are overloaded with more need than they can meet, and praying for more hospitals and clinics in this desperately underserved part of the country.

I have felt a call to be a part of starting a faith-based clinic in South LA since 2005, when God spoke to me during the CCHF conference that year. Since then I have been trying to discern my part in His greater plan, being that I am a family practice doctor working part-time, married to a full time pastor, and raising 2 children. We formed a leadership team in partnership with my church in Paramount, California (a working class city in SPA 6; probably the “least needy” city in SPA 6), and even made a business plan in 2006—but subsequently the team disbanded and it seemed like the city with the greater need was neighboring Compton. In order to be in Compton, I moved from my clinic in South Central Los Angeles to a busy, overwhelmed community clinic in Compton, hoping to somehow partner with this Compton clinic to embark on something more faith-based.

When that partnership didn’t seem probable, a door opened for me to work in essentially the only faith-based clinic in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Christian Health Centers (LACHC), a community clinic and Federally Qualified Health Center serving primarily the homeless and those in public housing, mostly up in metro Los Angeles. That is where I am now, in a rough neighborhood across from a large housing project near Boyle Heights/East LA, serving people with great medical and spiritual needs and little access to care. LACHC is a great clinic doing great ministry in an area of great need – but the truth is hard to ignore: the need is far, far greater closer to home.

But as I work in a faith-based clinic 15 miles from my home, my heart beats for South LA, for the health needs much nearer to my home in Paramount, right here in SPA 6. I am burdened with the need to do more here. I pray that the church would step up, that the thousands of Christians living around here would be a part of the solution to this problem, that we would start many faith-based clinics in South Los Angeles. Maybe some would be small, but hopefully others could become larger clinics, making a significant dent in the massive need in their neighborhoods and communities.

We need providers who will work sacrificially, for less pay than they would receive in the private world or even in one of the secular community clinics. We need business, finance, and health care management people to help us figure out how to survive financially. We need political inroads to manage the tricky political process it is to open a new clinic and be welcomed and accepted by the existing clinics. We even need radical Christians to be a part of opening or reopening more hospitals in South LA: that is a herculean task to be sure, with the massive numbers of uninsured people in our city.

Please pray for SPA 6. Pray for Los Angeles, for South Los Angeles in particular. Pray for your city. Pray for your neighbors who don’t have access to even basic health care. Pray that each of us would be willing to hear and respond to God’s call for us to follow Him, to live and work radically so that neighbors would know the love of Christ, and the healing and peace and wholeness that He brings.