University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Good Neighbors initiative brings health care enrollment to Boyle Heights

Early on a recent Sunday morning, Boyle Heights residents met behind Resurrection Catholic Church, discussing their definitions of health care.

The conversation focused on prevention, the integration of holistic medicine, cultural competence and fostering a positive relationship with doctors.

Led by the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities — Boyle Heights Workgroup A, the gathering combined screenings for health coverage eligibility and enrollment, information on community resources and referrals for legal services.

Grassroots service
In the weeks leading up to this meeting, members of Workgroup A had advocated for a special enrollment period so that the uninsured, regardless of documentation status, could receive health coverage under the new My Health LA program, Covered California or Medi-Cal.

The meeting was also supported by USC’s Good Neighbors Service Collaborative, an initiative funded by the Good Neighbors Campaign that has connected more than 800 community members with referrals for health and legal services.

“The university has a tremendous resource in our students, staff and faculty who are passionate about engaging in grassroots community service,” said Craig Keys, associate senior vice president for Civic Engagement. “When we connect them with opportunities in the community, we ultimately achieve the greater benefit of forming important partnerships with fellow community members who are trying to make our neighborhoods better.”


Volunteers help enroll residents during the Amate y Asegurate health care program screening, Saturday, April 12, 2015, in Boyle Heights. USC Photos/Gus Ruelas

Specialty care at no cost
Teresa Guzman, who was attending Mass at Resurrection, ended up enrolling in My Health LA. Before that day, she wasn’t aware of the program, which covers primary and specialty care services for no cost at designated clinics and hospitals throughout Los Angeles County.

Guzman’s current insurance has been insufficient to cover all her medical needs.

Alma Ortega, a local resident-turned-health educator, reached out to Boyle Heights residents.

“A lot of people were not informed that they had the right to medical insurance,” she said.

Gerson Sorto, Workgroup co-chair and staff attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services, described his experience in the medical debt clinic he runs at the Wellness Center.

“I see people with significant medical needs who don’t have access to care, and their options are fairly limited. I often see people going to an ER and coming out after a three-hour visit with a $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 bill. Having health care access definitely alleviates that.”

Through continued outreach efforts in the community, the situation can change.

“It’s important that everyone who lives in Boyle Heights obtain health insurance and those who are sick shouldn’t have to wait,” said Ramona Gardens resident Liliana Martinez.