When Lafecia Bruce learned she was pregnant with her second child, she was a little nervous.
Being pregnant for a second time at age 36 came with different symptoms and she was warned about the potential complications. She had given birth to her first child, a daughter, at age 17, but with this pregnancy she had more cause to worry.
By the time she was ready to deliver her son in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles, she was the picture of calm.
“Between the staff at MLK and my family’s support, it really went by a whole lot smoother than what it might have been,” Bruce told Global Citizen. “The nurses and doctors explained every little step and it made me feel more comfortable.”
Lafecia Bruce and her son, Jesse
Bruce, a hairstylist and South LA native, described her care as “exceptional,” which was not what she had expected at the outset.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital is located in South LA, just north of Compton, where more than 30% of residents live below the poverty line. For decades, the area has been home to some of the city’s most vulnerable communities and has been historically underserved. South LA lacked adequate medical care, healthy food options, and quality education. To this day, its community still struggles with these basic needs.
So when Bruce’s doctor first recommended she visit MLK Jr. Community Hospital, she was apprehensive.
“I was a little skeptical at first because I remember MLK before … And [its name] was not a good taste in anyone’s mouth,” Bruce said. But in 2007, the old hospital had been closed down, and with support from Citi, a new MLK Jr. Community Hospital was built with a whole new team of doctors, nurses, and staff, and opened to the community in 2015.
So Bruce decided to give it a chance — and what she found quickly eased her fears both about the hospital and her pregnancy.
The staff were immediately warm and welcoming and took the time to walk the expectant mother through every step of the process and all their facilities had to offer. Bruce recalled that Tammy Turner, manager of Perinatal Services, who was once a teen mom herself, took the time to make her feel comfortable and heard.
“She was very open and knowledgeable, she gave me the step-by-step, and tips on what we could expect,” she remembered.
“We even went up onto the labor and delivery floor and all the nurses were nice and offered congratulations,” Bruce said, noting that the warmth in the hospital was unlike what she’d typically experienced with doctors at other facilities.
And that same level of warmth and care were applied when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy in May. Bruce was greeted by name upon arrival at the hospital, and the staff were aware of her birth plan, referencing it during every step of the birthing process. Bruce noted the staff also offered support to her boyfriend, a first-time father.
That excellent standard of care has a ripple effect on the community, Bruce said.
“You might look at the community and think it’s run down, underprivileged, all these things, but when you see this exceptional hospital it helps to bring it up, because everything is on another level,” she said. “This doesn’t look like a hospital in the ‘hood,’ even though it’s technically in the ‘hood.’”
It wasn’t just the care she received during labor and in the hospital that Bruce said stood out to her. It’s that she has continued to receive support through the hospital’s group for new moms, even after bringing her baby home.
Tammy Turner, who helps oversee the group and the hospital’s other pre- and post-natal programs, said the hospital is unique in providing this ongoing support.
While many women are encouraged to take prenatal and lamaze classes, few are offered resources and guidance on what to do after the baby arrives. MLK Jr. Community Hospital not only offers a “First 48” class that aids new mothers in addressing the challenges of those first two days, but it also has mom groups that offer continued support and guidance when they get home.
And these resources aren’t just limited to mothers who give birth at the hospital.
“One of the things that I absolutely love about MLK is that we really have a focus on improving the health care of the community and not just the patients that we serve,” Turner said.
Tammy Turner with her daughter, Dr. Tasha Dixon, a family medicine physician at MLK Outpatient Center.
To that end, the “First 48” class is free and open to the community — regardless of where moms deliver their babies.
South LA has poorer health outcomes than the communities around it. More than 32% of adults in South LA had difficulty accessing medical care in 2017, according to LA County’s data, about 9% higher than the county average. And mothers in South LA reported one of the lowest rates of prenatal care in LA County with just 77% of mothers receiving prenatal care — second only to Antelope Valley at 67.4%.
But Turner hopes that the robust support system and strong relationships between mothers and health care workers at MLK Jr. Community Hospital will one day be the norm across California. Citi shares that hope, which is why the organization finances initiatives like these to support underserved communities in need of better infrastructure.
And with the high-quality care and ongoing support now offered at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, maternal care in South LA is being transformed, one new mom at a time.
“The most satisfying part of my job is just being able to see someone who goes from being pregnant to having a happy and healthy birth experience. Getting to see a mom go home and in love with her baby is amazing every time,” Turner said.