South LA high school gets new campus clinic

Oct. 18, 2012, 2:13 p.m.

Providers from South Central Family Health Center stand with the clinic's chief medical officer, Dr. Felix Aguilar (foreground), at the grand opening of the Wellness Center at Jefferson High School. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

Jefferson High School has a brand-new health center, thanks to a partnership between South Central Family Health Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

The Wellness Center at Jefferson High School, located on campus near the intersection of South Hooper Avenue and East 33rd Street, consists of four exam rooms and two dental operatories and will provide health care to the school's approximately 1,400 students, as well as the middle and elementary schools in the area.

Speaking at the grand opening on Thursday morning, Jefferson High principal Michael Taft joked that at times it seemed like the clinic's construction would never be completed.

"This looks just like a doctor's office," he said. "That's what we're looking for."

And that's what the area needs. South L.A. sees significantly more chronic health issues – obesity, diabetes, asthma and mental health disorders, for example – than other parts of the county. When it comes to students, LAUSD has identified Jefferson High as a "health hot spot," where students have limited or no access to care.

And a lack of access to care, said South Central Family Health Center CEO Richard Veloz, has negative effects not only on a student's health, but on her or his academic performance and psychological well-being.

"The biggest issue is preventive care," he said. "[Students] might wait until they're very sick before they go to their provider or to an emergency room."

But, Veloz said, with a school-based clinic, medical care can be immediate.

"We're going to have physicians, behavioral health care, mental health care, counselors on the campus that [students] can go to immediately and start learning about prevention," he continued. "They can have a regular doctor. And that's what's really important – too many have sporadic health care."

When patients like that end up in emergency rooms, Veloz noted, health care costs go up for everybody.

The Wellness Center will have a staff of 14 providers, and will provide a full range of medical services: physical exams, immunizations, dental services, pregnancy testing, birth control, testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, medication prescriptions and referral services, to name a few.

Patients must be registered students of Jefferson High School or a feeder school in order to use the facilities, and no eligible patient will be turned away due to an inability to pay. The clinic will be open three days a week – Monday, Tuesday and Friday – during school hours.

South Central Family Health Center is one of several federally-qualified clinics providing services on the southside. This is the health center's second school-based clinic, and their first within LAUSD.

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