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Homelessness, mental health top Glendale health concerns, summit reveals

Homelessness, substance abuse and mental health remain some of Glendale’s most salient health concerns, according to community leaders who came together Thursday for an annual summit to identify and address the city’s health needs.

The Glendale Community Health Summit — which stretched for six hours and brought together representatives from the city, school district, police department and area hospitals — was the first leg in a process that will ultimately result in a public report slated for completion in June.

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“We can’t, any one of us, address these significant health challenges by ourselves. We need to be working together,” said Bruce Nelson, administrative director for community research and mission development at Adventist Health Glendale, which, along with Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital, paid for the summit.

Travis Leach, who was formerly incarcerated and now attends Glendale Community College, told summit attendees that he used to be just like the homeless people sleeping outside the Downtown Central Library in Glendale. The summit was held inside the library.

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Addicted to drugs and living on the streets in Santa Ana, Leach learned he had AIDS when he was 26. His condition qualified him to receive healthcare and social services, allowing him to turn his life around, he said.

“If we could give our society healthcare, we would be a much more thriving society,” Leach said.

Since the 2018 school year kicked off, Glendale Unified has had to remove and hospitalize 21 students and perform a student risk assessment almost daily, according to Ilin Magran, assistant director of the district’s welfare and attendance program.

“If [children] are not healthy socially and emotionally, they will not learn,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Winfred Roberson Jr., adding that students face tremendous pressure and stress via social media.

Local police are also struggling with homeless and drug-addicted youth, with few nearby hospitals or shelters that specialize in that type of care, according to Danny Carver, a lieutenant with the Glendale Police Department.

Police officers recently had to take a 14-year-old girl to a facility in Ventura County because it was the nearest place with an open bed, Carver said.

On the other end of the spectrum are seniors, who deal with similar mental-health problems as other populations but can “suffer more because they’re older and don’t have the social support anymore,” Dr. William Wang, chief medical officer at Glendale Memorial Hospital, said.

While the hospital offers senior programs to sharpen their social skills, develop community and improve driving, Wang said Glendale Memorial’s team has identified nine other critical senior health issues that are not being addressed.

“We all have a different perspective that we bring to this,” Nelson said after the presentations. “And that perspective, when it’s added together, helps us get a handle on both the challenges we face and the resources we have available.”

This year’s summit also included focus-group work in preparation for Glendale’s Community Health Needs Assessment that is conducted every three years and guides local healthcare policies.

The previous assessment focused on many of the same health concerns raised at this summit, Nelson said.

Some community health concerns identified in previous summits have improved as a result of an action plan: Primary care availability has gone up and the prevalence of diabetes has gone down, Nelson said.

While roughly 150 homeless people have been housed, Nelson said homelessness has been difficult to control.

New homeless individuals replace the ones who get housed, “so we need to keep those resources in place,” Nelson said.

Using feedback from the summit, a follow-up meeting will identify the city’s 10 most important health concerns, in addition to the drivers behind them, Nelson said.

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