Week 20: Out and About in Our Community

It is not hard to notice as you drive around certain parts of Greater Los Angeles, the ubiquitous UCLA Health signage marking clinics and practices that are largely staffed and managed by the department of medicine (DoM). The statistics are striking with over 250 community clinics (over 150 being DoM and 30 primary care network), with approximately 1M medicine and subspecialty patient encounters year-to-date representing a double-digit percent increase year over year. What might not be so evident are the hundreds of faculty and thousands of staff who go to work each day to support this essential part of our department’s mission.

Thus, last week I began doing field trips to meet our staff in the community clinics and to see the facilities where they work. This is a multi-week effort, and over two days last week I visited clinics in Santa Clarita, Porter Ranch, the Thousand Oaks region (Hampshire Road, Westlake Village locations), Calabasas and Encino. What I saw was impressive and represents an essential part of comprehensive health care in these communities. Many of you might not be aware of the decades long journey that got us to this point. This plaque to honor the late Dr. Matteo Dinolfo provides some context regarding the early days of this expansion project.

 I salute the many support staff that I met and many faculty who live and work in these communities. I recognize that it sometimes seems that the center of gravity at UCLA Health and the DoM sits in Westwood. However, I hope to convey that like a large organism with many tentacles, we are widely distributed, and each member of our team represents an essential part of our overall mission.

Pictured with Dr. Abel (from left to right) are Emma Gutierrez, Teresa Lopez, Ofelia Monroe, Janette Sadlo, Sandra Delgado, Irma Lozano, Salma Harb-Barish, Diane Argueta, Cristina Magallanes, Melissa Lopez, Evan Leconte, Anahit Khacheryan, Dana Harake, Tamika Johnson, Pamela Frankel.

It was great to meet faculty representing multiple specialties including:


Pictured with Dr. Abel (from left to right) are  Dr. Rauz Eshraghi, Dr. Leslie Johnson, Dr. Steven McCarthy, Dr. Anne Mae Climaco, Dr. Sonia Heitmann, Dr. Surina Kajani.


Pictured with Dr. Abel (from left to right) are Dr. Na Shen, Dr. Yaroslav Gofnung, Dr. Deepashree Gupta.


Pictured with Dr. Abel (from left to right) are Dr. Andre Akhondi, Dr. Roman Leibzon, Dr. Janki Shah.


Dr. Annie Zhang


Dr. Nima Milani-Nejad


Dr. Igor Kagan


Dr. May Lin Wilgus


Dr. Craig Gluckman
Dr. Rimma Shapshnikov


Dr. Daniel Kim

There are other specialties as well, including Rheumatology, but I was not going to pull our doctors from patient rooms to say hello.I want to share a meaningful interaction that took place in the parking lot of the Santa Clarita primary and specialty care site. As I was getting into the car, staff member Jennifer Van der Borgt (pictured below) was heading out on her break and asked me, “Are you Dr. Abel?” I said yes and we had a brief conversation about her work as a medical assistant. Later that day Jennifer sent me the following email:

“My name is Jennifer and I met you today in the parking lot at the Santa Clarita site. As I mentioned, I love reading these weekly updates. What I didn't get to say to you today is "Thank you!" Why the thanks? Last year I completed the UCLA Health Medical Assistant (MA) Program, which is funded by the school of medicine. Without that funding, the program would not exist, and I wouldn't be writing you this. I worked at Amgen for 14 years and at the start of the pandemic my job was affected. Coming to a crossroad in a career is overwhelming, but I re-evaluated my priorities and decided that being in the clinic was something that I wanted to experience and that led me to the program. So, thank you and I hope the school of medicine continues to fund this wonderful program.Best, 

PS - I have hopes that an LVN program will be funded in the near future if you are looking for suggestions. 🙂"

I was moved by Jennifer’s note, and it got me thinking and curious to learn more about the MA program. Here is what I found out. The MA program is a joint effort between DoM, UCLA Health and UCLA Extension, with significant funding coming from the DoM.  The DoM handles most of the finances directly with UCLA Extension.  UCLA Health contributes about 100K per year towards scholarships and the remainder is a collaboration between DoM and UCLA Extension.  The DoM’s share has been funded from our operations and has been offset over the past 2-3 years by philanthropic support raised by members of our faculty.  We cover the instructors and split the program’s administrative costs with Extension.  Extension then transfers back a portion of the revenues (tuition + scholarships) to DoM to offset some of the costs. I am proud of the foresight of prior department leadership to work towards meeting the clinical workforce needs and I confirm our ongoing commitment to this program.

Jennifer’s nudge about licensed vocational nurse (LVN) training came true when I met Linda Bianci (pictured right), an LVN from our Hampshire Road facility. Linda's journey in health care started as a medical assistant and she shared that she recently achieved LVN certification with the encouragement and support of her colleagues.To view all the pictures from the past week's visit, click HERE. I will be visiting other facilities in the coming weeks and will send updates.

I also know that there are areas of Los Angeles, where we have no presence. In the future, I will speak more about initiatives to increase our presence in underserved areas of the city.

The other highlight of my week was the first of three regional wellness town hall events that kicked off last Thursday with faculty who work in Westwood and Santa Monica. Nearly 200 faculty turned out to mingle with colleagues in the social hour that preceded the town hall.

Members of the pulmonary and critical care division pictured above.

The genesis of these town halls is part of our response to faculty engagement surveys that provided granular and specific feedback to the department regarding the challenges that our faculty face as they work in the trenches to meet our clinical demands and the factors that have contributed to increasing faculty burnout.  I will provide a more complete summary of the discussions and recommendations when all the town halls are completed. The feedback from our first town hall was positive. I will share a note, which I am keeping anonymous, that I received from a faculty member who participated in the town hall.

 “Hello Sir,
I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for the town hall this evening. This is the first time in my three years on faculty that anyone has ever said anything remotely close to “we value you being here,” and it really felt wonderful. I can’t imagine how many items are on your plate and to put so much time, energy, and care into the well-being of your faculty is really remarkable and very unexpected. I appreciate you and your leadership and am excited to see the growth of the DoM under your guidance.”

Thanks for your note, which I believe reflects the sentiment of many who participated in this event. The department will continue to be open to feedback as we work collaboratively to fulfill our missions while supporting our faculty and conveying our appreciation for what you all do.

As members of a large community, from time-to-time we must also say goodbye to colleagues who pass on. This week I learned of the loss of Dr. Terence Hammer (pictured right), who passed away on Thursday, May 12th. 

Dr. Evelyn Curls, President of the DMPG and regional lead for the South Bay practice noted:

“Dr. Hammer has been a pillar within the South Bay medical community for over 30 years. He unselfishly worked to lend his experience to launch and support multiple UCLA Health clinics including the Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes practices, working most recently at the PV office. He mentored many young UCLA physicians at the outset of their careers, including many of us on this email chain. He was an effective and impactful preceptor, working many years with medical students both in clinic and on main campus. He was a shrewd and knowledgeable clinician who worked tirelessly to provide high quality and compassionate patient care to the citizens of South Bay community for decades. His passing is a great loss to the beach cities medical community and UCLA Health.”

Dr. Alice Kuo said:

“Terence was such a warm and kind person, and very nurturing to many of our physicians who were more junior 7-8 years ago when we started the Redondo Beach office. He did a lot to help build our South Bay practices, since he had such a devoted following of patients.”

Rest in peace, Terence. Thanks for your life of service.

Our clinics and community outreach provide a strong opportunity for us to enroll our patients in clinical trials and represents an area that our oncology programs has longed excelled. Opportunities exist to increase diversity of participants in clinical trials and recently Drs. Tzung Hsiai and Keith Norris were recipients of a $4.2M award from the American Heart Association to lead research focused on enhancing clinical trial diversity and metabolic health. Congratulations!

This week, May 25 marks the two-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd and the video which brought into sharp focus the ugly underbelly of racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the United States and catalyzed much conversation about systemic racism in America. There have been some incremental changes since then. Unfortunately, the journey to eradicate racism in America is far from over as evidenced by the recent tragedy in Buffalo New York, 9-days ago.

This week, I encourage all of us to not lose sight of the unfortunate reality that racism exists and to redouble our commitment to eradicate it.



My sister in St. Paul and a friend went to the George Floyd memorial this week to pay respects. She reminded me that we should never forget, and that celebrity sightings do not only happen in Los Angeles.

She is doing better than me. A few years back, she sent me a selfie with her and Morgan Freeman, taken in the MSP airport.

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