Whether it’s fitness and nutrition classes, homework help or any number of other educational and health care resources, North Long Beach residents now have a new spot to access a wide range of services.
The new Community Resource Center, which recently opened at 5599 Atlantic Ave. thanks to L.A. Care and Blue Shield Promise, is the 12th location of a $146 million commitment by both health plans to open 14 jointly-operated community resource centers across the county.
While the ribbon-cutting ceremony was celebrated on Friday, the center began offering its services to the community in February.
The center is open to everyone, not just Blue Shield or L.A. Care members, noted Kristen Cerf, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan.
“A community is only as healthy as its sickest individual,” Cerf told the Business Journal.
Ensuring that every community member has access to quality care not only aligns with Blue Shield’s mission, but is personal to Cerf, she said.
“I know firsthand how important it is to have access to health care,” she said.
“I lived penny to penny for a long time when I was going to school and doing my education and starting out my career,” Cerf added. “So having something like this that I could have come to would have made all the difference in the world for me, so it’s such a wonderful gift to be able to give it back to the community.”
Each center is targeted around the specific needs of each community— for instance, in the Long Beach space, there are cooking classes to address the cardiovascular health needs of the area, Cerf said.
Other services will include finance courses in English and Spanish (plus child care services that parents can use while they’re in class), supplies such as diapers and wipes, and assistance with getting signed up for services such as CalFresh and Medi-Cal— processes that can be lengthy and complicated, Cerf said.
“If there’s a need out there, we want to try to help meet it and fill it, and I really, really genuinely hope that everyone takes this opportunity to live their best possible life,” Cerf said. “Life is a gift. Health is a gift. And so working for that and making sure everyone understands it—has access to health care, understands how to utilize a super complicated system—is the most important thing to me.”
Plus, any community-based organization that wants to offer free services is welcome to utilize the space as well—the space is adaptable and can offer services depending on need, Cerf said.
“The folks that work in the centers are from the community, so they know and they understand the community,” Cerf said. “They are so passionate because these are their friends, their neighbors, their families and loved ones, and they bring that love in here.”
Other offerings will include exercise-focused classes such as Zumba, yoga, cardio dance, stretch and agility, and chair yoga for older adults; nutrition courses with an on-site dietician; and educational courses covering anything from mental health to domestic violence and child abuse prevention, said Zulay Carrillo, Long Beach Community Resource Center manager with L.A. Care.
In Los Angeles County, over a third of the population is on Medi-Cal insurance, meaning about a third of the population is living below 138% of the federal poverty level, explained John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care.
“Where we have a concentration of those members is where we think the centers can have the most impact,” Baackes said. “So it’s really based on recognizing the inequality that exists in the county and focusing some resources for those who have the most need.”
Baackes hopes that the newborn-focused courses, which include reading and singing classes, will reach a larger number of people, and ultimately that the Long Beach resource center becomes a trusted source in the community, he said.
L.A. Care’s initiative to begin offering community resource centers began about 15 years ago, explained Baackes. Based on the idea of improving the health status of the overall community, not just for L.A. Care members, the initial sites served as free health education centers, he said.
About eight years ago, the effort began to expand, both with the addition of new resource centers and in the resources offered, by including social services as well, he said. About three years later, Blue Shield joined the initiative.
The introduction of the resource center comes along with the opening of a new Blue Shield Long Beach hub, which is expected to open in July. The new office follows the consolidation of three other Southern California offices, and will bring about 1,000 employees to the city.
As for welcoming Blue Shield and L.A. Care’s Community Resource Center to Long Beach, it has been a project nearly three years in the making, said Councilmember Al Austin during the event.
“I can’t think of a better place and more appropriate location for this to be than here in North Long Beach,” Austin said.
“This is a moment that we call the Uptown Renaissance,” said Mayor Rex Richardson during the event, referring to recent momentum focused on the North Long Beach area. “It’s a moment where we’re reinvesting in our community, and the people who live in our community. We’re proud of our proud, strong, diverse, resilient North Long Beach community.”
The Community Resource Center is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. View more information about the Long Beach location here.