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Los Angeles,California,United States

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As Americans struggle with the aftermath of the health care reform bill, and try to determine exactly what it means for themselves and their families, the homeless population is often ignored. Most assume that homeless Americans get free medical care, but that is not necessarily the case. Even those who do have government-sponsored health care are forced to make difficult choices when health must compete with food, shelter, and transportation. This ongoing series of stories will detail the plight of the 'sick and homeless' in Riverside, California.

Picture of Manoj Jain

Last week, my oldest daughter graduated from high school and began her journey as a young adult. As a proud parent and the commencement speaker, I shared some life lessons with the class of 2010. Here is some of what I said:

Mr. Ronnie Quinn is about my age but twice my size and looks like Michael Oher, the professional football player from the movie "The Blind Side."

Despite high fever and his blood teeming with bacteria, he was sitting up in his hospital bed with the sheets pulled up to his thighs. Looking me in the eye, he greeted me with a smile.

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When radio reporter Devin Browne began her foray to the edges of journalism, media commentators seized on her project quickly. Her multimedia journal uses prose, images and audio clips to tell a story about how she and a photographer moved into the cramped apartment of an immigrant family in MacArthur Park to learn Spanish. The Entryway, so called for the small space Browne rented, was quickly and harshly criticized for exoticizing Los Angeles' large Latino population.

Picture of Jessica Ogilvie

At a conference like today's "Improving Health Literacy in Los Angeles," which focused on the sensitive issue of improving health literacy in some of Los Angeles' underserved communities, racial stereotypes should be a far-away concern.

But when the time came for tables of conference attendees to report back to the whole after doing a group interactive activity, it became clear that even the most well-meaning and forward-thinking health professionals have far to go.

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The focus of today's conference, Improving Health Literacy in Los Angeles, was on ways in which medical providers can improve the community's understanding of health concerns and health care.

We are “focusing on expanding health literacy in L.A. and the western region,” said Ellen Iverson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine, who introduced the conference panelists.

Picture of Jessica Ogilvie

For journalists, the topic of health care disparities — particularly in Los Angeles — is a familiar concept. Exploring the discrepencies in care between various socioeconimic and ethnic groups often leads down a road of dismal statistics and frustrating realities. 

But what happens if we refocus our gaze away from the patients and onto the providers?

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As one of the largest, most expansive cities in the country, Los Angeles faces huge challenges in getting out health-related messages that resonate with the city's myriad cultures. Lack of health literacy, or having trouble understanding either the benefits or the details of modern, often Western medicine, has ripple effects, including patients being less likely to seek preventive care and more likely to use hospital emergency rooms for routine medical care. 

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Melvin Baron has spent his career educating the public about health and medicine, first as a pharmacist and then as a USC Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy. He’s 77 now, and he confesses to some frustration with the handouts that pharmacists and doctors use to inform patients about health and medicine.

“Much of what we give you is lousy,” he told me. “It’s a lot of words. Most of it is way above the audience. It doesn’t resonate and it’s boring.”

Picture of Angilee Shah

If you are anticipating covering Southern California's inevitable weather stories this summer -- heat waves, water shortages, wildfires -- consider this: These narratives are health, environment, public policy and economic stories all in one.

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