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Watts clinic unveils new wellness center at Jordan High School, adding to growing school-based health movement

Jordan Wellness Center is located near the Jordan Downs housing development (pictured above) in Watts, and will provide care for students of Jordan High School and residents of the development and surrounding community.
Jordan Wellness Center is located near the Jordan Downs housing development (pictured above) in Watts, and will provide care for students of Jordan High School and residents of the development and surrounding community.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

The ribbon was cut for the new Jordan Wellness Center facility in Watts on Thursday morning, marking the opening of yet another school-based health center in South Los Angeles.

The center, which will be operated by Watts Healthcare Corporation, is located on the campus of Jordan High School, situated along the Jordan-Downs housing development.

When it opens for business at some point in May, the center will serve students of the high school and several nearby elementary and middle schools, as well as residents of Jordan Downs and other surrounding communities.

Until then, Jordan Wellness Center will continue to operate out of the two-room facility inside Jordan High School that it's occupied since the 1970s. William Hobson, the president and CEO of Watts Healthcare Corporation, called the old facility "rather decrepit," saying it doesn't offer much patient privacy.

He explained why the improved aesthetic appearance of the new, freestanding center is more important than it may seem.

"I've had an opportunity to see school-based health centers around the country," said Hobson. "What I've found is the better the facility looks, the more the students take pride and tend to use it. The privacy that more people will have in this facility alone will really make the difference."

The new building has five exam rooms and will offer medical care, mental health care, family planning and immunizations, among other services. Once it opens, its hours will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon.

The operational opening date is pending some final approvals by the federal government and a site visit by county officials.

"It'll be accessible to their parents, it'll be open to members of the community," said Hobson. "That can help essentially provide more access to care for the community, and when you have more access to care, it can improve the health status of that community."

"I think that it has the potential of being transformative, as all very accessible community health centers have been," he said.

The trend

School-based health centers are going strong on the southside:

Those are some of the 14 school-based wellness centers that are at the center of the vision of the L.A. Trust for Children's Health.

"I've been in public health for over 30 years, and looking at health disparities and not seeing that needle shift at all is a problem that we have to address," said Maryjane Puffer, the executive director of the L.A. Trust.

The organization is heading up the effort to develop 14 school-based wellness centers, most of them on LAUSD campuses, by 2014. Other South L.A. sites include T.H.E. Clinic's location at Crenshaw High School and Northeast Community Clinics' site at Gage Middle School.

Puffer said although similar programs are being developed in parts of San Diego and Compton, she noted that "there's nothing that is comparable in scale to what is happening in LAUSD."

How they help

School-based clinics aren't a panacea to South L.A.'s widespread lack of access to health care, said Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, but they are "part of the solution."

"We are still looking at how people access care," she said. "There is a limitation on the number of appointments on a daily basis that these wellness centers can provide, because they're much smaller than the comprehensive health centers that are operated by the federally-qualified health centers that operate these wellness centers."

In other words, the school-based health centers provide a easy access point, but can't match up to full-on health clinics when it comes to volume or scope of services. But if a patient needs something a school-based clinic can't provide, Vaccaro said there's an easy solution: referrals.

"You've got a comprehensive health center that's just a few blocks or miles down the road," she said.

Jim Mangia, the president and CEO of St. John's, called school-based health the "future of health care delivery."

"It gives you the opportunity to intervene at the earliest possible moment in a family's health trajectory," he said. "You're creating a culture of health and you've got a captive audience with which to do that."

Mangia is also helping to take the school-based wellness center movement into Compton Unified School District: Eight days before opening Washington Prep's wellness center, St. John's marked the grand opening of Dominguez High School Health Center.

On Wednesday, St. John's also announced that Compton Unified has approved a plan for a new wellness center at Compton High School, the building of which Mangia is hopeful could begin within a year. The clinic is seeing a relatively dizzying rate of growth, but Mangia says the clinic has "plans to go even further."

"I think school-based health centers can be sustainable," he said. "I think the critical component is that they have to be open to the community at large. Part of the sustainability has to be that the school health center becomes an integral part of the community."