South Central Family Health Center (SCFHC) has provided comprehensive, quality and affordable health care and education to residents of communities with low incomes in South Los Angeles since 1981. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Federally Qualified Health Center dedicated to improving the quality of life for our diverse community by offering health care to those individuals who are under-resourced and uninsured. The populations we serve have a higher risk of developing a number of chronic and acute health conditions.
In 2010, Evelin Martinez, PA and Temica Boutte, PA started the exercise and nutrition program. Both PAs were seeing a lot of patients with diabetes, hypertension and other medical conditions. The patients had unhealthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels and the providers would explain to them that diet and exercise are the cornerstones of controlling these medical conditions. They would ask them if they exercised and where they exercised and how often they exercised. Many patients expressed to them that they didn’t have anywhere to exercise in the area. Patients couldn’t access places like the YMCA/YWCA or LA Fitness because they were too far away. Also, cost was an issue; financially, it was too expensive for them to join a gym. Further, they expressed that walking in the parks nearby or walking around their neighborhoods didn’t feel safe, especially at night. Many could walk after work, but didn’t feel they had any place to go.
Temica and Evelin knew it was critical that patients exercise and understand proper nutrition to improve their health. They decided to start a series of exercise and nutrition classes. Initially, they started at a park in the area and invited patients to attend. SCFHC found out that they were doing this for the patients and stepped in and had their grant writer identify some grants, applied and were awarded three grants.
Now, we offer a variety of different fitness classes, including nutrition education, and have seen an impact in terms of patients’ blood sugars, remarkable changes in their blood pressure and weight loss. Many patients that were depressed or anxious before starting the classes reported that they were feeling better and were excited to come to class. The best part is that it’s free. Patients don’t have to worry about problems with access because of financial issues. We are excited that we are able to provide this program and are looking forward to expanding it to provide additional classes, more often. We currently have yoga, boot camp, and Zumba; we want to offer even more classes.
SCFHC also provides children’s exercise classes two times a week for our overweight children who have a medical condition or their siblings who wish to participate. They play soccer for an hour and do yoga for an hour. Our exercise programs are designed to get you to move and help you lose weight and help your blood sugars and blood pressure get controlled. Unfortunately, offering these classes twice a week is not enough. The goal is to at least introduce exercise techniques to them so they can experience and enjoy exercise and think of other ways to continue exercising on their own. Our exercise classes help the children feel good, decrease their stress, and provide a forum for the students and patients talk to one other and share their experiences. Evelin and Temica talk to them after class about their aches and pain.
Fitness classes are a nice place to socialize outside the exam room, but more importantly, to exercise and to become healthier mentally, spiritually and physically. Many patients have benefitted from the program. Staff have heard patients say, “Well I started out here and now I exercise on my own at this other place two to three times a week.” This is what we are striving for. We hope to get more funding so we can offer yoga classes to our prenatal patients and soft yoga for our senior patients who have arthritis. We currently have a low attendance rate for our male patients, so we are encouraging more men to attend as well.
Temica and Evelin noticed that it wasn’t enough telling the patients to exercise and take their medicines and it wasn’t enough to give them a lecture. We had to provide them with these services so they can actually do what they prescribed to them. If you tell them to exercise, the best way for them to do it is for them to come to the clinic where there’s an exercise program that they can follow.
What’s been great is that it fosters a since of community. The patients look forward to seeing one another and they are building relationships and accountability. They have a community of peers who are also managing a medical condition or want to lose weight or be healthier – they don’t feel alone in the process and they have support. The instructors emphasize accountability and also encourage patients to go outside of the clinic and exercise on their own or meet up with another partner in class and workout outside the class. They really push the patients to exercise 30-60 minutes, five days a week.
We also offer cooking classes for our patients. SCFHC has a nutritionist that comes in and cooks healthy meals for them. The patients get a chance to sample the foods and get great ideas to cook healthy meals for their families. We offer many different meal options, and tasty foods that are healthy and low in fat and sugar. We strive to keep with our motto “To heal, educate and empower.”