Both Catherine Bax and Ann Turner had varied careers before coming together in 1981 to found the San Pedro Family Health Center (previous name of SCFHC). Dr. Ann Turner (pictured right) had a nine year-long medical career with various residencies throughout the U.S. before settling in Los Angeles. Dr. Catherine Bax (pictured left) was a former Catholic nun and high school teacher before obtaining a nursing degree from Pasadena City College and subsequently becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant through the UC Davis program.
In the first year of the clinic, it was difficult to attract patients in the community of South Central LA. Bax and Turner recalled “waking up at 5 AM to distribute flyers introducing themselves and San Pedro Family Health Center to the neighborhood.” The clinic resided on the corner of San Pedro and Main Street, in a community with an historic African American population. However, the majority of patients who came to the clinic were recently-arrived Latin American immigrants without health insurance who had left their countries due to economic instability, internal conflicts, and failed governments.
The clinic grew from seeing only 500 patients the first year, to 6,500 patients by the fifth year in 1986. The reason for opening the clinic was simple: to deliver high quality, affordable health care to the medically underserved and uninsured in South Central LA. Although the majority of the patients Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax saw were from the neighborhood, they had patients come from as far away as San Bernandino and the San Fernando Valley.
Dr. Turner recalls the immense trust that had been built between her and a former patient with her child, when the child had become severely sick with an ear infection. The family had just moved out of the neighborhood to Bakersfield. Even though the family was insured at the time, they were unable to find an affordable medical provider in the city. Thus, they rushed back the hundred or more miles to the clinic to have their son treated. Dr. Turner had become such a trusted medical provider, former patients were willing to come back for the treatment of their medical needs no matter the distance.
As the Family Nurse Practitioner for the health center, Catherine Bax (pictured right) affectionately earned the nickname “Wonder Woman” for her red hair by her pediatric patients . Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax provided care for the early board members and their families. A real sense of community developed at the clinic.
The clinic had lived through one of Los Angeles’ most historical moments: the Rodney King Riots of 1992. The clinic's original site was on the corner of San Pedro and Main Street. Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax recalled closing an hour earlier at 5 PM, and seeing a few police cars patrolling the neighborhood. Later on in the evening, they saw television reports of the South Central community rioting in response to the Rodney King case-verdict. After three days of rioting, Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax received calls from neighbors that the clinic had been broken into and looted.
In May 1993, Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax left after running South Central Family Health Center together for twelve years. At that point, the organization had become self-sustainable enough to work on other projects. Dr. Turner and Dr. Bax moved to Portland, Oregon, where they both worked at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius, OR.
Thank you Dr. Ann Turner and Dr. Bax for leaving the SCFHC staff as stewards of your clinic. Without the legacy of your hard work and commitment to the community, we would not be where we are today. Thank you.
Photo Essay by Gladys Garcia. Apr. 04, 2018