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Patients thank South L.A. clinic awarded federal money for expansion

June 22, 2012 | 12:12 pm

Within days of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could overturn President Obama's healthcare law, federal officials announced that nearly $7 million made available by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is being given to a dozen community clinics in Los Angeles County
When Sunhi Kim rushed into "To Help Everyone" Clinic in South Los Angeles recently, she was in pain and very worried.

She had no insurance coverage. But soon enough, the clinic figured out she was pregnant and worked with her to qualify for Medi-Cal coverage, and she was able to see a specialist right away.

Now stabilized as a prenatal patient, Kim wanted to say thanks to the clinic on the same day that the facility -- known by its initials, T.H.E. Clinic -- was one of a dozen health centers in Los Angeles County to receive nearly $7 million in grants from President Obama's 2010 healthcare reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act. An additional $8 million was given to other clinics across California, including facilities in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Kim, speaking in Korean, was one of two patients who came out at a news conference Thursday to celebrate the granting of the $483,333 to T.H.E. Clinic, which will allow the facility to open up a new clinic at 2250 S. Western Ave. and expand mobile van clinic services at Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools.

Another patient, Diana Cifuentes, said she began coming to the clinic about four years ago when she became pregnant, and now brings her child and her sister. "I love it, because the workers, they're very compassionate and very heartwarming to you. They actually make you feel like this is your home."

The announcement about the funding came days before an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the healthcare law, which increases benefits to Americans, expands programs for the poor and will require citizens to have health insurance or face a tax penalty.

However, even if the justices overturn the law, one official noted, money that has already been awarded to the clinics will not be at risk.

Elected officials used the grant event as an opportunity to express their support for the embattled legislation, the president's key domestic achievement.

"Los Angeles is grateful," said County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat. "This administration of President Barack Obama has come forward and made things happen for this community and this nation in a way that we ought to be proud of.

"He accomplished more than what any other single president has done to advance healthcare for the American people," he said. "The Supreme Court, in my view, doesn't need to try to be the executive branch of government."

Officials said the money was part of $11 billion in Community Health Center Fund grants that Congress approved under the healthcare law and is distributing over five years to operate, expand and build health centers from coast to coast. So far, $3.5 billion has been spent.

The need is especially acute in South L.A., which ranks high in abnormal births and infant mortality, and where one in five adults cannot afford to see a doctor. That's worse than the average for L.A. County, where one in nine adults were unable to get their health problems checked, according to a county health survey.

"We, unfortunately, are surrounded by a community that leads the league in high blood pressure, heart disease ... and leads the league in the lack of medical care," Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said.

Overall, the federal money will help create new clinics and expand existing ones, and provide more jobs for doctors, nurses, clinic support staff and construction workers, said Herb K. Schultz, Southwest regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Doctors and other healthcare staff will be able to see 85,000 new L.A. County patients as a result of the grants, Schultz said.

"These clinics ... do a phenomenal job at providing access to primary and preventive healthcare services to" patients in need, Schultz said.

The funds awarded to T.H.E. Clinic could mean it will be able to see 15,000 additional patients over the next three years, said Chief Executive Rise K. Phillips.

As for what could happen to the rest of the unspent money if the law is overturned, Schultz said only: "We're confident that the Supreme Court will uphold this law."


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-- Rong-Gong Lin II in South Los Angeles

Photo: Gregorio Auila holds the hand of his son, Emmanuel, as the boy is vaccinated at T.H.E. Clinic in Los Angeles. Credit: Margaret Cheatham Williams / Los Angeles Times