Bridging the Gap | Torrance Memorial

Published on April 01, 2022

Bridging the Gap

Community health worker Jessica Verdugo helps Carson residents obtain health and social services.

Jessica Verdugo

Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner | Photographed by Vincent Rios

Many services are available through government, community and nonprofit sources. But surmounting hurdles such as filling out applications, determining eligibility and navigating automated phone menus can flummox even the most sophisticated health care consumer. The problem is exacerbated when language, poverty, educational or cultural barriers come into play.

Jessica Verdugo, Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s first community health worker, bridges that gap by serving as an intermediary between available resources and underserved individuals in her community of Carson. She helps these residents with healthcare navigation or establishing a “medical home” for ongoing primary care, as well as access to services ranging from food pantries to support groups, transportation assistance and in-home support services.

Jessica Verdugo“The role of the community health worker is to advocate for health and wellness as a fellow community member who understands the obstacles her clients face,” says Claire Coignard, director of health education and HealthLinks at Torrance Memorial. “Jessica provides understanding and care for the whole person. She is incredibly caring and a go-getter who knows how to find resources.”

One client, for example, was stressed and overwhelmed about caring for her ex-husband. He was suffering from early dementia and had no one else to help him. Jessica assisted the client in obtaining Medi-Cal and In-Home Supportive Services and transferring his care from a distant medical provider to a closer, less expensive, county-run clinic. When the client mentioned that her granddaughter needed an iPad, Jessica referred her to a free L.A. County iPad program.

Her job, says Jessica, “is about taking time to build relationships. I do a lot of follow-up with clients. Even after I’ve helped them resolve their issue, I will call later to see if there’s anything else I can help with.”

Jessica works at Torrance Memorial Physician Network’s Women’s Center in Carson. She assists patients at that practice as well as those referred by the network’s primary care physicians Jason Alvarado, MD, and Carmen Gossette, MD.

“Having Jessica to guide them makes a big difference in the health of her clients,” says Dr. Alvarado. “They are more likely to receive services and follow through on health recommendations when they have a caring person to assist them.”