During her first trip to a public housing development, Michele Rigsby Pauley discovered five-year-old children there had never been immunized because the clinic down the road sat in rival gang territory.
Suddenly, the need for a mobile health unit became crystal clear. “I am very proud that I can be a part of something that’s making a difference in the lives of people,” says Rigsby Pauley, a Wilshire Park resident.
“I am always thinking, ‘What more can I do? How can we fix this problem rather than be sad about it?’”
April marked the 20th anniversary of “COACH for Kids and Their Families,” two mobile health units established through Cedars-Sinai that go into underserved Los Angeles communities to deliver much-needed healthcare, including vaccinations, wellness checkups, vision tests, hearing tests and more. April also marks Rigsby Pauley’s own anniversary with the unit; she started as a nurse practitioner and later moved into the role of program director. “I feel so fortunate to have a dedicated team and Cedars-Sinai quality care that I can bring to neighborhoods that desperately need it,” she says.
Many families know COACH’s schedule and use the mobile units as their first line of medical care, and the COACH nurses see to it that the families receive the medical and social services that they need, knowing that their patients face varied obstacles, including lack of funds and transportation, language barriers and trust issues.
One of Rigsby Pauley’s early success stories involves a patient, Olga, who was homeless with an infant when she came upon the medical mobile unit. Through the ongoing services of COACH, she was able to get her life back on track.
Today, Olga has a home and a career, and speaks publicly about the importance of mobile medical units for the poor. It’s not just regular medical care that the poor community lacks, either. Rigsby Pauley is also distressed by the absence of dental health among poor children. She often sees four-year-olds with missing teeth because of decay, and whose parents don’t have toothbrushes or mistakenly believe they don’t need to care for baby teeth because they will fall out.
To respond to this need, COACH set up a “Healthy Smiles” program that teaches dental care to children and their parents in public schools and Head Start centers across L.A. COACH units refer clients to low-cost dental clinics, often paying for transportation. COACH now has a “Be Healthy, Be Strong!” after-school program and staff hasbeen trained as outreach and educational counselors for Covered California, although Rigsby Pauley says the need for the mobile units will not go away anytime soon.
“Over time the neighborhoods may have changed, but the need remains great, and the Cedars-Sinai program is committed to filling that need.”
By Sondi Sepenek