County Plugs in Health-Care Gaps As COVID-19 Surges
From left to right: Anna Gorman, Director, Community Partnerships & Programs, LA County Department of Health Services; Miriam Brown, Deputy Director, Emergency Outreach & Triage Division, LA County Department of Mental Health; Sherri Cheatham, Chief, Medi-Cal & In-Home Supportive Services Program Division, LA County Department of Public Social Services
Undocumented? Impoverished? How to get the care you need
By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services
With the COVID pandemic setting new records almost daily for the number of people dying or hospitalized, Los Angeles County officials met with ethnic media members to spread the word about programs to expand health care to everyone, at little or no cost and without consideration of immigration status, or sometimes even identities.
“We are in the middle of the worst surge,” said Anna Gorman, community partnerships and programs director for the county Department of Health Services. Hospital admissions in the county doubled in the past few weeks to the point that, “Today (Dec. 17), across all hospitals in the county, there are fewer than 100 (66) ICU (intensive care unit) beds open, and 346 total.” At DHS’s four hospitals, she said, there were only 18 ICU beds open.
“This is really an untenable situation,” she said, and cited long waits in emergency rooms, or to be taken from ambulances, challenges in having space and staff enough to do the medical work, record numbers of deaths, and more.
Gorman is director of My Health LA (https://dhs.lacounty.gov/my-health-la/), a DHS program aiming to fill the biggest gap in keeping the community healthy.
“After ACA (Obamacare), one population group that didn’t get covered is the undocumented,” she said. MediCal is California’s system within the ACA, and it covers kids. But for those who don’t have health insurance or don’t qualify for ACA but live in Los Angeles County, there’s My Health LA. Neighboring Orange County is not as fortunate.
“We do not ask for documentation status or immigration status,” Gorman said.
There are more than 200 clinic sites (https://dhs.lacounty.gov/our-locations), large and small, where patients can enroll. Upon deciding which one is best for them, clients will have access to the facility for a year and can return for a range of services, from medications, follow-up and preventive care, lab tests, equipment, dental and mental health care and substance abuse treatment. COVID-19 tests, too, although there are still 180 testing sites around the county, she said. DHS has also started an at-home testing collection service and mobile testing.
If you’re not sure if you are eligible for My Health LA, call (877) 333-4952 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Fridays.
“As a society, we need to make sure that people have somewhere to go,” Gorman said. In response to the pandemic and a frustrating drop in enrollment, the program now allows people to enroll or re-enroll by phone.
Also, in July, MyHealthLA added an array of mental health services (http://dhs.lacounty.gov/mhla), at the clinics themselves, as a preferable option to making referrals to other providers.
Miriam Brown, deputy director of the Department of Mental Health, DPH’s partner in the new My Health LA program, touted her department’s ability to go out into the community to meet its clients’ needs.
In part, that’s been by ramping up its by-phone accessibility.
The department’s access line, (800) 854-7771, is open all day, every day and can field calls in all principal languages found in the county, she said. Callers don’t even have to give their names, and no data about them is collected.
And “We don’t ask for insurance or immigration status,” Brown emphasized.
Brown said there’s been an increase in callers experiencing depression to the point of contemplating suicide, increased substance abuse and growing stress levels from schools being closed and the demands that puts on children and their families who lose campus-based connections with people trained to spot and address their needs. Isolation, too, has taken a toll.
“If you’re struggling,” Brown urged, “Ask to speak with somebody!”
“People who had been struggling prior to the pandemic, have been hit really hard,” Sherri Cheatham, who is chief of Medi-Cal and In-Home Supportive Services for the Department of Public Social Services, said next.
As of last month, she said, DPSS had helped more than 3.2 million Angelenos with Medi-Cal benefits including “outpatient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, preventative and wellness care, chronic disease management, mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription services and dental services.”
Recent legislation has expanded the availability of the full range of Medi-Cal services to undocumented immigrant children younger than 19 and young adults up to 25, Cheatham said.
Callers can apply for benefits at any time at: https://dpss.lacounty.gov/en/customer-service.html or by phoning (866) 613-3777 during the call center’s newly expanded hours: 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Call agents speak up to 10 languages and have access to speakers in others
DPSS is “looking for all ways of letting the community know that we’re here for them,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, we realized that there are a record number of people who have become unemployed or had their hours reduced,” she said, and many may unknowingly now qualify for help.
“We’re here for them and we’re committed to helping them,” she said. “I encourage all of you to stay connected with us. Don’t assume that you may not qualify. Apply!”