Diversity in the Health Professions
Advocacy Group Connects Working Poor to Careers in the Health Professions

taying healthy is no easy feat for the working poor residents of Los Angeles County’s communities of color. Many are employed in retail and service-sector jobs that neither pay a living wage nor provide health benefits or opportunities for advancement. Often lacking health insurance and access to preventive health measures, these residents rely heavily on emergency rooms as their primary source of care, burdening an already overtaxed public health system.

At the same time, the region is facing a serious shortage of trained, culturally competent health professionals. Research has shown that a more diverse health workforce can improve access to health care services for underserved minority populations, since minority providers typically provide more care for the poor and uninsured and practice in more areas with shortages of providers.

To address this issue, organizations such as Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) are mobilizing community residents and waging public policy campaigns. In December 2002, TCWF awarded SCOPE a two-year, $100,000 grant to support The Community Initiative for Health Care and Jobs, a project to address public policies that will connect underserved communities to careers in the health professions.

“We believe that people most affected by poverty and unemployment should be in the forefront of changing their conditions,” said Lalee Vicedo, SCOPE development director. “We organize low-income and communities of color to build power in order to collectively effect change. With this campaign, we address the lack of livable-wage jobs and access to health care, which are critical issues identified by the community, and seek long-term and permanent solutions that will benefit large numbers of residents.”

Targeting low-income residents in three communities in Los Angeles that are predominantly Latino and African-American, the campaign provides training for entrance into the health workforce, offers career paths in a growth industry, and works to increase the capacity of underserved communities to achieve solutions that address the health and job issues of people of color. SCOPE’s leadership development programs strive to demystify these issues by exposing the economic or policy decisions behind them, and they involve participants in developing solutions that will positively impact their community. Over time, these communities build an expanded base of social activists.

This work includes the Health Care Career Training Ladder Program, a comprehensive training and placement program that propels low-income residents into health care careers that offer livable wages. More than 200 graduates have gone on to such jobs as licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, medical coders, in-home health support aides and medical and lab assistants.

Additionally, SCOPE is mobilizing residents, community-based organizations, educational institutions, unions, employers and public agency and industry/training experts. For example, the organization was asked to join a local task force that gathers and analyzes research for the county’s Workforce Investment Board and makes recommendations for training and supportive services. This participation ensures a community-based perspective and analysis in policy decision making.

“Organizations like SCOPE provide a vital health service to underserved communities in Los Angeles County,” said Saba Brelvi, TCWF program director. “By providing health care career training and building grassroots organizing and leadership skills, they are helping low-wage residents gain access to preventive health care and higher wage jobs while working collectively to affect policies that improve their health and wellness.”

For more information, please visit www.scopela.org.

Winter 2005

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