December 7, 1941 was a day to live in infamy.  September 11, 2001 brought the War on Terror. Time will tell if March 6, 2013 will have a similar level of significance to the Skid Row/DTLA community in a positive sense.

On March 6th about fifty “stakeholders” – those who live or have some direct connection to Skid Row/DTLA – gathered inside California Hospital Medical Center to listen to and ask questions of a panel of seven health experts regarding the recent news stories about a tuberculosis outbreak in Skid Row.  This special two hour community presentation was part of the regular monthly Public Health and Safety Committee meeting of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC).

The panel:

– Dr. James Watt…Chief of Division of Communicable Disease Control, California State Department of Public Health (Sacramento)

– Dr. Satna Bamrah Morris…Centers for Disease Control Medical Officer TB Elimination Specialist (Atlanta)

– Dr. Peter Kerndt…Acting Director – TB Control Program L.A. County Department of Public Health

– Christin Mondy…RN – Metropolitan L.A. area Health Officer – L.A. County Department of Public Health

– Dr. Maxine Liggins… Area Medical Director – L.A. County Department of Public Health

– Dr. Joseph Nussbaum…Chief of Staff, California Hospital Medical Center, Infectious Disease Specialist

– Dr. Diane Woods…Lead Researcher Statewide CRDP – Population Report

General Jeff Page, DLANC Representative for Skid Row Residents, was the primary organizer of the presentation.  This began on February 22, 2013 with a front page story in the Los Angeles Times: “Feds try to curb outbreak of TB on skid row”.   Since then many stories with many quotes have appeared in the media and in cyberspace producing a great deal of confusion for stakeholders.

The issues, both medical and communicating community information, are complex, and the major focus of the night was to try to clarify and simplify the situation both for those in attendance but also as part of a process of doing so with the whole Skid Row/DTLA community.

One of the major questions was why is this happening now and Christin Mondy said the County did not contact the media.  She speculated that recent tuberculosis information sent by the County to emergency care providers was turned over to the media by someone.

A point made by several stakeholders as well as those on the panel is the word “outbreak” means one thing to health care professionals and another thing to the public.

Mondy stated it is the position of the County Health Department that they do not recommend people wear masks unless it’s the people who actually have tuberculosis. Senior Lead Officer Yin clarified the L.A.P.D. policy initially was for officers in Central Division (Skid Row) to wear masks but that policy has changed to officers may wear masks if they so choose.

After the meeting ended, the question asked some of the stakeholders  –  how they felt about the meeting and what do they believe should be the next step (in alphabetical order):

J. Russell Brown (DLANC Public Health and Safety Co-chair and Area Wide Residential Representative)    I thought the meeting was very helpful and useful.  It put in clearer terms that this is not a new crises, but maybe an expanded awareness of the issues.  They tried to put it in such a way that it’s manageable if you have the right partners paying attention especially for the folks that are chronically ill and have been ignored or abandoned.  There is an avenue to get them into treatment and care.  I think they could have been clearer when talking about contact information, how intimate you really need to be, when you talk about casual exposure just on the sidewalk it’s nor really an issue.  And I think alot of people have concerns about the general conditions on the sidewalks and is that aggravating it.  My hope is when need be, maybe every six months or so, we do a general state of the community when it comes to these kinds of things so people could have a forum to express their interests and so I thought it was good.

Pastor Cue  (Skid Row street pastor/preacher)   My initial thought coming into this meeting was alot of confusion.  I didn’t know what was going on.  Hearing alot of conflicting information and so that was difficult.  And concern for the individuals that work with me, some come all the way from Irvine that work with me.  We’ve been on the street for the past six and a half years.  And I was concerned that they, the officials,  just don’t care enough about Skid Row.  But because of the meeting I feel like, okay, it’s not 100% clear, but at least we have something we can work with and the information we were given we can now empower the volunteers.  The information in the pamphlet, Doctor Diane Woods did a great job, and we can use this to help the volunteers who come in to help on Skid Row. And so I feel a bit empowered.  I feel like the panel spoke around the issue for awhile.  But it was a good first step actually.

Chuck Heshberger (Skid Row Condo owner/resident)  I didn’t have alot of information coming into this meeting and so it was all fairly new to me.  It seems like local resources are being put to use and I took away it’s the responsibility of people to report those they think might have tuberculosis.  Keep eyes and ears open and support the County in doing their work for the eradication of TB.

Brittney Sharaun (Burgers and Bibles Skid Row Outreach)  Coming into the meeting I was confused because of the different reports, some of them misleading and not consistent. Alot of different numbers were thrown around, alot of news coverage that made it sound like this big thing we should be worried about.  Leaving now I’m a little more at peace knowing it’s not as big a deal as the media made it out to be – to learn this “outbreak” has been going on since 2007.  For Burgers and Bibles we are a faith-based group, a volunteer group, so we remain faithful in whatever the media is saying, whatever is going on.  As far as precautions and moving forward, we want everyone who has been volunteering with us to get tested, to be mindful of the symptoms as we go out because we are speaking with the people on the streets, praying with them.  We’ll continue what we’re doing with no masks unless some want them.

I believe what I witnessed last night was historic.  First off, this might have been the greatest concentration of expertise ever brought to bear on behalf of Skid Row.  And it was done in the context of a downtown community based group tasked with representing the entire community to the Government of Los Angeles (which implies the whole world).  Last night was highly interactive both during the actual presentation itself and perhaps more importantly in the conversations afterward – relationships begun and developed.

By Tom Grode

To see pictures of the event, click here.

Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.

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3 Responses to 3/6/13

  1. Matt says:

    Interesting… Our group has been coming to serve the Skid Row community on an annual basis now since 2009, and no concerns have come up before. Thanks for this entry, Tom. Seems like it was a positive meeting.

  2. anon says:

    I feel compelled to point out that Russell Brown cares nothing for Skid Row in fact the only reason he was involved was political infighting between two factions of DLANC boardmembers

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