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Community-focused health-care approach works in Long Beach area: Guest commentary

Amid the uncertainty and confusion that political strife over health care reform poses in Washington, D.C., it’s worth taking a look at well-established lessons about what works in our communities in terms of promoting greater health and wellness. No better example exists than in an unassuming building in Wilmington, not far from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Providence Little Company of Mary Wellness and Activity Center on Hawaiian Avenue in Wilmington has, since it opened in 2014, served as an oasis that beckons to children, adults and families who must cope with the urban challenges of living in this area. These neighborhoods, some afflicted by gang activity, stand in sharp contrast to nearby affluent communities like Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills.

Targeting a traditionally underserved population, the wellness center offers a comprehensive menu of health care and education services to help families improve their lives. That menu includes programs, classes and support groups on such topics as healthy eating, fitness, yoga, Zumba and other services designed to establish and enhance healthy lifestyles.

There is something reassuring about knowing there’s a place where Wilmington’s residents can go for expert and caring guidance and for a strong sense of community strength. In fact, many residents have stepped forward as volunteers to lead health promotion activities and clubs. This didn’t happen in a vacuum.

The Providence Little Company of Mary Community Health and Wellness Center was the product of strong collaboration between Providence Little Company of Mary, Mercy Housing, Abode Communities, SBCC THRIVE LA, local stakeholders and community volunteers to address identified, unmet health care needs. The Wilmington community, like many other urban neighborhoods, was found to have the strongest need for a community wellness center: a place which helps to improve access to care, physical activity and dietary habits, to prevent violence, to provide connections to mental health services and to promote ways to prevent illnesses from occurring.

The Providence Wellness and Activity Center is a prime example of how a collaborative community initiative was developed in response to feedback from local stakeholders who know better than anyone what services are needed to address local concerns.

The Wilmington community has responded well to this partnership with Providence. In 2016, the Wellness Center received 10,000 visits from residents seeking advice, assistance and education. Students at the adjacent Hawaiian Avenue Elementary School have made strong use of the Wellness Center, using athletic fields and multi-purpose rooms during the school day and after school.

Wellness Center staff organize wellness workshops, children’s camps and health fairs, and develop specific programs that address health needs identified by local residents and community data sets. There’s not just a sense of appreciation for these services, but a sense of fun. Zumba classes and soccer programs, many led by community volunteers, have the highest level of interest and participation. It is that sense of involvement and belonging that is crucial to reaching people with information that will help them reach and achieve healthier lifestyles.

With all the confusing details from Washington about congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), about the fate of insurance subsidies and employer mandates, it’s inspiring to review community care programs offered at the Community Health and Wellness Center — a concrete example of how health and lives are improved by listening and responding to a community’s issues.

Extracted from Press-Telegram

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