LOS ANGELES — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Black person is twice as likely to die from coronavirus as a white, non-Hispanic person, and four times more likely to be hospitalized.

What You Need To Know

  • Black people are more likely to suffer from COVID-19

  • The Watts Health Center turns no one away

  • The Center's staff is as diverse as its patients, almost 14 percent of whom are uninsured

  • The Chief Medical Officer says racism negatively impacts the health of his patients

The Watts Health Center, where no one is turned away, is uniquely equipped to handle inequity.

Tina Ramsey has lived in the neighborhood almost as long as the Watts Health Center has existed. She needs this place more now since the pandemic started.

“It messes with my depression, and I am not going to lie, I’m kind of scared half the time to go out without a mask,” Ramsey said.

COVID-19 hit her community of Black and brown folks hard. Unemployment and pre-existing conditions are common. The numbers speak for themselves – almost 14% of the center’s patients are uninsured. All of it increases vulnerability to the virus.

The chief medical officer of Watts Health, Dr. Oliver Brooks, has spent most of his career at the center.

He said racism is another challenge his patients face in fighting the disease.

“It’s why the concept of Black Lives Matter is real – because there are documented studies that show the life of an African-American is not valued as highly,” Brooks said.

Coronavirus also scarred the center itself. At the beginning of the pandemic, more than 100 employees were laid off, mostly from satellite offices and school-based clinics – putting more stress on this facility.

They converted all the private doctors’ offices into exam rooms and made use of the outdoor space to handle the crowds. 

Brooks thinks the growing pains are worth it.

“As a Black doctor I just realized that this is our time. If we don’t take care of our people and our community, which includes the Latinx community, then who will?” Brooks said.

Seeing a doctor who looks like you makes a difference.

The facility’s staff nearly matches the makeup of the patients coming in, almost half of which are Black. It is part of what keeps Ramsey and her family coming back to the 50-year-old health center.

“I’ve been coming here ever since I was 12 years old. I have four children, and they [have] been coming here,” Ramsey said.