For nearly 21 years, COACH for Kids and Their Families, a program of Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, has brought health care to impoverished inner-city families.
The program’s two mobile medical units visit low-income neighborhoods four days a week, providing vaccines, wellness checkups, vision tests and more to children and their parents.
COACH director Michele Rigsby-Pauley has been there from the beginning. She recalls the first time COACH (Community Outreach Assistance for Children’s Health) rolled out to a site on LA’s Skid Row.
She had examined a child who was uncomfortably congested. Rigsby-Pauley, a nurse practitioner at the time, advised the mother to “go into your bathroom, run the shower and steam it up for him.” But the family lived in a single-occupancy motel room with a shared bathroom on the floor. And mom couldn’t afford the medications that would have helped her son feel better.
“I knew poor, but I didn’t know this kind of poor,” Rigsby-Pauley says. “That’s when I realized we had to meet families where they are, and know who they are so we could serve them better.”
COACH has logged more than 600,000 patient and educational visits. COACH vans make scheduled stops at schools, churches, homeless shelters and other sites. It also sponsors community health fairs and nutrition and fitness programs. Each van has five staff members – all are bilingual.
COACH also provides on-call support after hours to direct families to appropriate treatment. Prescriptions are filled at the time of service, and specialty referrals are made to either Cedars-Sinai or a network of affiliated physicians who donate their care.
Services include a “Healthy Smiles” program, set up in 2003, to teach dental care to young children and their parents in public schools and Head Start Centers.
Because it serves neighborhoods where more than half of teenagers are overweight or obese, COACH launched a “Be Healthy, Be Strong!” after-school and summer program in 2012. Kids learn healthy eating habits they can share with their parents. The program also features monthly blood pressure screening and body mass index clinics for parents.
Rigsby-Pauley says the “most rewarding part of my job is working with a fabulous group of people who really care about the families we are serving.” She says COACH is not about “changing the system; it’s about uplifting the community.”
She also deeply appreciates Cedars-Sinai’s commitment to the program. The health system picks up about half of the program’s costs; the balance comes from support groups and foundations.
“For Cedars-Sinai, this is part of its mission of community service,” she says.
For nearly 21 years, COACH’s mobile medical units have brought care to families in need. The program also sponsors community health fairs and nutrition and fitness programs.