Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger came to UCLA with a commitment to working with experts here to end homelessness and treat the county’s health and mental health issues that often go hand-in-hand with this countywide crisis.
“Mental health and health, in general, are my passions,” she said during a roundtable discussion on Sept. 6 at UCLA Center for Health Sciences.
At the start of her career, Barger worked as former Firth District Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s health deputy, and she has maintained her commitment to those issues ever since. “We have to look at the cause of what’s taking place in this population and what is growing it. I am committed to working with you all … This isn’t about any one district.”
Barger heard from an accomplished group representing three major facets of UCLA’s work with the homeless community:
• UCLA Transdisciplinary Homelessness Research: Janey Rountree (Executive Director of the California Policy Lab) and Norweeta Milburn (Professor-In-Residence at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences)
• UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior: Ken Wells (Director of the Center for Health Services and Society) and Elizabeth Bromley (Semel Institute Center for Health Services & Society)
• UCLA Health: Erick Cheung (Semel Institute and Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA) and Mary Noli Pilkington (Director of UCLA Health Care Coordination)
David Geffen School of Medicine Dean Kelsey Martin kicked off the roundtable, noting that everyone was eager to help provide a successful and affordable healthcare system in partnership with the county, while training the next generation of workers trained in new ways to address these important social issues. “We are very committed to addressing the issues of homelessness,” she said. “We have medical students coming in deeply interested in that.” She also pointed out that students receive more interdisciplinary training than ever — studying not just medicine, but also sociology, anthropology and more to address issues beyond the medical bay.
Barger agreed that a more holistic approach was important. “I firmly believe this population is so much more complicated” than experts originally thought so many years ago. Experts offered to work with the county from a number of different angles.
Rountree said the California Policy Lab could be used as a resource for the county to predict who would become homeless. “We would use this data to help the county allocate the best prevention dollars,” she said.
Milburn’s research focuses on homeless youth and prevention. “It’s a constellation of factors that put young people at risk.”
Wells introduced the Community Partners in Care program (CPIC), which tackles depression directly in neighborhoods, bridging the clinic and the community through partnerships with barbershops and churches and other gathering spaces. Cheung echoed his colleagues on the importance of partnerships and linking services — avoiding silos in care, since homelessness can be attributed to so many different areas.
Before the meeting, Barger took a small tour of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with Vice Chancellor and UCLA Health CEO John Mazziotta. They examined the dual helipad used to bring critically ill patients and lifesaving organs to the hospital (RRUMC performs more solid organ transplants than any other medical center in the country). Mazziotta also took Barger into a patient wing to show her the special telemedicine robots that allow experts to examine patients remotely — even on a plane at 30,000 feet.
The trip came full circle when Barger spotted the UCLA Health Mobile Stroke Unit in front of the hospital. The specialized emergency response vehicle is the first of its kind to operation in California and is a partnership between UCLA Health and Los Angeles County.
“For me, it was really important to be here because I got to talk to individuals who were on the forefront of not only addressing what’s going on with the homeless initiative, but also on the frontline of helping us identify where we really need to apply our resources,” Barger said. “We’re looking at what the root causes are and what we need to do to apply these resources and really address those 30,000 people on the street. This was exciting, and this was a really good meeting.”