Health Lead Story West Edition

Kaiser’s physician in charge sets healthy expectations

CRENSHAW — As a child, Dr. Erique Emel, physician in charge at Kaiser Permanente’s new Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Medical Offices, did not have health insurance.

His parents, both blue collar workers at Hughes Aircraft, had limited family benefits. Growing up, he and his four sisters did not see a doctor on a regular basis for checkups or preventative medical care.

He was born and raised in the Crenshaw District, not too far from the state-of-the-art Kaiser Permanente facility where he is now the lead physician responsible for administration and operations. He is in charge of ensuring doctors are supported and have the tools, supplies and equipment they need to properly care for more than 50,000 Kaiser members in the community.

At an early age, he set his intention to pursue a career in health care and help people formulate a healthy lifestyle. He was inspired by an older cousin who was studying to be a physician at Pomona College in Claremont and would occasionally stay with Emel’s family on weekends or during the holidays.

“I was 10 years old and very impressionable,” Emel said. “My cousin was larger than life and had big aspirations. That’s really what inspired me to be like him and to go into medicine.”

Emel first heard about Kaiser Permanente’s model of preventative medicine while he was shadowing his adopted sister around her job as a neonatologist. She told him that Kaiser offered a good approach to health care and it might be a program that he would be interested in.

As a medical student in 1987, Emel was able to take an elective course at Kaiser and was immediately drawn to the health care provider’s particular brand of medicine.

“I liked what they were doing,” he said. “I liked their approach, their belief in prevention. From that point on, I was sold. My goal was to join Kaiser as a partner.”

Dr. Erique Emel, physician in charge at Kaiser Permanente’s new Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Medical Offices, shares a moment with his mother during opening ceremonies last month. Dr. Emel has aspired to serve the health care needs of the Crenshaw District since he was a young boy growing up here. (Photo by Cynthia Gibson)

In addition to working at Kaiser Permanente, Emel was intent on practicing medicine in underserved communities where he felt the need was greatest. As he was finishing his training, a position at Kaiser West L.A. Medical Center became available, followed by a position at the Kaiser Inglewood where Emel spent the next two decades until accepting the position of physician in charge at the Kaiser Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Medical Office.

Knowing a lot of chronic illnesses and chronic diseases are based on poor choices, Emel opted to go into pediatric medicine in an effort to work with parents and help them raise healthy children from the onset, making wholesome decisions from the beginning.

Impoverished attitudes and low expectations, according to Emel, have more impact on a child’s health than impoverished bank accounts. Based on this philosophy, he sets a strong expectation of excellence in health for his patients and their parents.

“I know healthy attitudes flow downward,” Emel said. “I try to instill that mindset with the families I work with so we will have a successful outcome. It’s all about not only what we say, but also what we do.”