Clinic that cares for all, cared for by Hollywood legend

August 29, 2023

By Thomas Leffler
Originally published in Santa Monica Daily Press, August 29, 2023

Every resident needs quality health care, regardless of age or financial situation. Without local clinics that can take any patient, any time, would-be superstars of their respective fields may not be able to live long enough to see their talents shine.

Television mastermind Chuck Lorre was able to see his breakthrough, creating some of the medium’s most successful programs such as ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ but may not have gotten there without the support of local health clinics. Inspired by his personal journey, Lorre’s contributions to Venice Family Clinic led to extensive renovations at its Rose Avenue location, newly renamed as the Chuck Lorre Rose Avenue Health and Wellness Center.

“When I first came to Los Angeles, I was really sick, I was really physically extremely ill,” Lorre said at an Aug. 26 ceremony celebrating the completion of renovations at the center. “I was 110 pounds, and (my) prospects weren’t good. And I had no insurance. So this is important to me. The opportunity to see a doctor when you need to see a doctor, no matter what’s in your wallet, is really personal to me.”

The center is part of the Venice Family Clinic network of sites, which provides comprehensive care to more than 45,000 people annually, regardless of income or insurance status. Merging with South Bay Family Health Care in late 2021, Venice Family Clinic has 17 sites ranging from Venice and Santa Monica to Inglewood and Redondo Beach.

As the first permanent site of the clinic’s network, the Rose Avenue location remains special to Venice Family Clinic CEO Dr. Mitesh Popat, who hopes the changes at the center can serve as a “blueprint” to carry forward in other communities.

Popat commended the on-site improvements for their functionality as well as their aesthetic quality, pointing to the brighter atmosphere and increased natural light in the center’s offices as valuable. Also adding some color to the center is a new mural gifted from Venice-based artist Christina Angelina, also known as Starfighter. The custom art piece features photo realistic depictions of hands from actual clinic patients, including those who have been receiving care for over 45 years.

“To have a place that’s here, that’s beautiful, modern, welcoming, that anyone would be happy to get care in … (we’re) providing care in a dignified space in a dignified way is huge,” Popat said. “We’re not the clinics of 50 years ago … we’re here to serve the community, we’re open for everyone. Whether you’re housed or not housed, we’re here to serve you in a comprehensive fashion.”

Comprehensive care comes down to efficient communication between staff and patient, which has improved due to refurbished “team rooms.” The exam rooms allow patients to stay in one place, while health care providers such as mental health specialists, case managers and care coordinators can visit them. This ease of access for the patient is also evident with the center’s new pharmacy, moved to the ground floor for a seamless medication pickup process.

“By redesigning our clinic flow, it supports our care for our patients in the community,” Popat said.

New to the center is a community room that can be used for group sessions showcasing the wide range of services available, such as fitness classes and potentially cooking and nutritional demonstrations down the line. The center also provides services from dental and vision to substance use and diabetes counseling.

A separate pediatric waiting room and dedicated pediatric exam rooms were added, as were two showers available for unhoused patients to use before their appointments, or just to keep clean.

The renovations took years to complete, adding a constant evolution of the center onto the team’s already hectic workload, with Venice Family Clinic Deputy Director and Chief Operations Office Anita Zamora commending her fellow employees for taking on the strain.

“I’m grateful for everyone who has made this renovation possible … a lot of change, it wasn’t easy, but the team came together to make sure patients had the quality care they needed during that time, in spite of the transformation and frankly, sometimes chaos, that was in place,” Zamora said.

Besides ‘Two and a Half Men’ creator Lorre, others helping to make the transformation complete were the S. Mark Taper Foundation (who gave a $500,000 gift for the project) and U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, who secured a $500,000 appropriation for furnishings and new technology at the site. Lorre will also be matching gifts up to $2 million to the 604 Fund, which supports ongoing care at the center.

While he was emotional before cutting the ribbon on the newly-renovated site, Lorre quickly shifted back into the humorous persona that made him an entertainment legend.

“Very much like Los Angeles and Hollywood, this building has undergone a lot of cosmetic surgery … it will be welcoming.”