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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Claris Health hits the streets in new mobile clinic

After more than 40 years of helping underserved communities with life-changing medical care at its two brick and mortar locations, Claris Health is now taking it to the streets in a new mobile clinic that debuted at the organization’s annual fundraiser this past October.

The addition of the $230,000, 30-foot, custom mobile clinic will allow medical professionals to visit 27 sites each month throughout Los Angeles County at locations that are known for limited access to health care. The sites include charter schools, homeless shelters, food pantries, abuse treatment sites, housing projects and more.

Some of the neighborhoods in which Claris Health provides services include Inglewood, Leimert Park, Vermont Harbor, South Los Angeles, Hollywood, Echo Park, Long Beach, Compton, Watts and Lynwood.

Services include early prenatal services, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy testing, pap smears, ultrasound imaging, general health screenings, social service referrals for hard-to-reach communities and a network of more than 200 committed community partners.

Shields for Families, a nonprofit organization located in South Los Angeles serving individuals, children, and families, was the first clinical site the mobile clinic serviced. Additional community partners include Dream Center Los Angeles; Allies for Every Child, St. Margaret’s Center, PATH, YWCA Sexual Assault Services and more.

Talitha Phillips, CEO of Claris Health, explained that hard-to-reach communities include those that don’t have easy access to care, places where transportation is an issue, immigration status is an issue or there is a distrust of doctors.

“In some cases, it’s just physically hard to reach a health facility,” Phillips said. “Some people don’t feel valued by the medical community. With this mobile clinic, we can eliminate barriers and go directly to where the need is. We need to go into the communities where they will feel comfortable.”

Phillips knows firsthand how beneficial the services can be to someone in need. She used to be one of them.

“Originally I was introduced to Claris Health as a client,” said Phillips, a married mother of two. “I was a college student on scholarship at Pepperdine when I first heard of the organization. Someone took me to a different clinic to have an abortion. I regretted it and wished I had thought it through. 

“I learned about this organization and its support group. I learned I wasn’t alone,” she added. “Other women were going through or had already gone through the same experience. That’s when I learned I was valuable. That’s when I started volunteering.”

Although she rejected the offer to helm the organization many times, this year marks Phillips’ 18th year as CEO.

“At 23, they approached me to take over as the director,” Phillips said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t a seasoned leader.

“I was working for a technology company at the time. When I took the director job at Claris I also took a post-partum doula job to make ends meet because Claris was very small during this time.

“I ran from this for about a year. I had so many excuses. They kept saying I would be great at it. Finally, I had a surrendering spirit,” she added. “Eighteen years later, here I am in charge of vision casting, leadership, organizational development and fundraising. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Phillips said Claris Health’s mission is to equip and care for women and their families before, during, and after pregnancy and to help women make proper sexual health choices. 

While Claris Health’s two locations in West LA and Inglewood are already popular in the community, Phillips said the mobile clinic, which is parked in one specific location for three to four hours each day is off to a good start as well.

Two or three patients can be seen at any one time. Phillips said within three hours time, 18 patients were seen on the first day the mobile clinic was in service. Now she estimates more than 60 patients will be seen each week. The cost to run the mobile clinic is about $600 a day, according to Phillips.

Mobile clinics have a significant role to play in providing high-quality, low-cost care to at-risk populations.

Phillips said the idea for the mobile clinic came from students at Pepperdine University about a year ago who conducted a feasibility study to find out where Claris Health’s patients were coming from and whether a mobile unit was needed.

“Through the study, we found out they were coming from far distances,” Phillips said. “We thought, what about those who can’t get to us. Some people don’t trust the doctor or a hospital. It was the students who came up with this idea. It was a good one.”

Phillips said all of the money to pay for the mobile clinic came from donors and one grant.

At the West Los Angeles and Inglewood locations, Claris Health not only provides education services regarding sexual health and pregnancy options, and mental health services, it also includes free or low-cost medical, support, therapy, parenting, and educational services to women, men, and families with children under the age of 5.

“Studies show that the first five years of a child’s life are most critical,” Phillips said.

When it comes to America’s health care system, Phillips said some improvements are in order.

 “It needs work,” said Phillips who grew up in Germany. “I don’t have the solutions. My view is that there is always going to be more that we can do. I grew up under a European system. I also saw flaws. I don’t know what to tell you. There is a lot to be done.”

When Phillips took the reigns of Claris Health all she knew was that she wanted to have a place where people were supported.

“Our philosophy is we listen to the needs of those who come to us,” Phillips said. “That’s our culture here.”

“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making A Difference” profile, send an email to newsroom@wavepublication.com.

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer