SC CTSI's town hall in Nickerson Gardens serves as a catalyst for community collaboration in the pursuit of health equity

SC CTSI's Community Engagement core group pioneers a model for trust and collaboration between academia and under-resourced communities. The initiative, based in Nickerson Gardens, addresses healthcare challenges identified through focused listening sessions.

by Andrea Diaz — November 20, 2023

In addition to improving clinical care and health outcomes through cutting-edge research, the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI) is also committed to addressing the unique healthcare challenges faced by under-resourced communities.

The Community Engagement (CE) core group at SC CTSI have initiated a place-based approach in Nickerson Gardens, which is the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi and home to over 3,000 residents in South Los Angeles. The goal is to tackle the unmet health needs, which the CE team identified through conducting eight confidential listening sessions from June to August 2023. These sessions were facilitated in both Spanish and English, engaging residents in their preferred language to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the community's health challenges.

Drawing on the insights obtained from these listening sessions, the Community Engagement team collaborated with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) to organize a town hall meeting at the Nickerson Gardens Gymnasium on November 7. Residents and community partners learned about the focus group findings but also actively participated in discussions about the next phase of this initiative, which aims to directly address the health needs of the community.

Nickerson Gardens Town Hall meeting
Photo by Andrea Diaz

The evening began with opening remarks from Tyrone Nance, Lead Community Outreach Specialist, who shared more about Community Engagement’s involvement at Nickerson Gardens and the types of educational health workshops the team offered throughout the summer.

Nance then shared the findings from the listening sessions and highlighted the key concerns that were addressed, including challenges with accessing health services, reliable transportation, and health education.

Residents also shared their additional concerns and highlighted issues such as inconsistent access to on-site health services, a desire for more educational workshops on health and life skills, assistance with navigating social services, the need for frequent health fairs, on-site providers and mobile clinics, equal access to healthcare services for all age groups, and the demand for improved transportation due to limited bus stops, coupled with the refusal of other transportation services to drive through Nickerson Gardens.

“It was very interesting to hear firsthand from the residents of this community about the main problems they face, such as the issue of inconsistency of service providers, the issue of transportation, which is always an obstacle because there are no nearby services,” said Adriana Argaiz, Associate Director of the Southern California Center for Latino Health. “Among all of us, we are trying to explore options to try to solve these kinds of problems.”

Nickerson Gardens Town Hall info sheet
Photo by Andrea Diaz

The town hall included community partners from L.A. Health Care Plan, Dream Center Foundation, U.S. Department of Justice, Los Angeles Police Department, University of Southern California, and other organizations. They answered questions from residents and addressed possible initiatives to alleviate some of the concerns mentioned.

Jennifer Thomas, Assistant Director of HACLA, expressed satisfaction with the direction and outcome of the town hall meeting.

“My hopes are to leverage the data collected by the USC CTSI team and work collaboratively with our partners for more inclusive planning around programs and services for the residents,” Thomas said.

Residents felt similarly. Maria Alcantar, a resident of Nickerson Gardens, expressed her hope for a proactive approach.

“My hope is that, with everything they [SC CTSI and community partners] presented today, they follow through completely,” Alcantar said. “I wouldn’t want this to be just a dialogue; I hope they actively take steps to address the issues that residents raised today."

In terms of next steps, SC CTSI plans to establish the Nickerson Gardens Coordinating Council in 2024 – a diverse coalition involving residents, healthcare providers, government, faith leaders, educators, law enforcement, and community groups. Through this collective effort, the aim is to bring about systemic change, enhancing healthcare support and addressing the unique needs of the community.

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.