Providence Little Company of Mary
Delivering compassionate care—where it’s needed most in the South Bay.
- Written byAnne M. Russell
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Providence Little Company of Mary reaches deep into the hearts of the underserved communities that surround its hospitals in Torrance and San Pedro, including Hawthorne, Lawndale and Wilmington. “All our services are free of charge,” explains Juan Mendez, MPH, a senior manager of Providence Little Company of Mary’s Community Health Investment (CHI) department. “It’s part of the Providence mission; it’s a moral obligation.”
That mission stretches far back—all the way to 1856 when the Sisters of Providence began setting up facilities to care for the poor in the Pacific Northwest. Today Providence Little Company of Mary embodies the order’s long-standing pledge to “serve all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable” with an extensive CHI outreach program that serves an estimated 45,000 people a year without cost to them.
In the Community
Central to Providence Little Company of Mary’s important role as an advocate for healthy lifestyles is the Providence Little Company of Mary Wilmington Wellness and Activity Center. Located within a neighborhood of affordable housing complexes, the 10,000-square-foot facility offers free nutrition and fitness classes, grief support meetings, food distribution and immunizations for kids.
“We’re a hub of services; we focus a lot on partnerships.”
Melina Yepiz, MPH, a CHI manager who oversees the center, explains that her team works closely with other community groups. “We’re a hub of services; we focus a lot on partnerships,” she explains, adding that the center, which has a full-time staff of about 15, serves between 400 and 500 people a month.
Yepiz says she sees the tangible difference the center makes in the lives of its neighbors. “There are families I’ve known for 10 years who have attended regular classes in nutrition, and they’ve become leaders and advocates for the community. It’s an environment that’s helped them flourish.”
On Tuesdays, the Wilmington Wellness and Activity Center hosts a farmers market, providing neighbors with a chance to buy fresh produce and eggs. The center matches shoppers’ CalFresh (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits dollar for dollar, so they can get twice the food while supporting the farmers. It also buys directly from farmers to create 30-pound bags of food for families in need.
Above Partners for Healthy Kids mobile unit at the Wellness and Activity Center
On the Go
On Wednesdays, the wellness center gets a visit from Providence’s Partners for Healthy Kids, a 40-foot-long RV that’s been outfitted as a mobile mini-clinic to provide school kids with required immunizations. During the course of the year, the unit visits over 30 area schools. Mendez, the program’s manager, explains that means partnering with a wide range of South Bay school systems. In 2023, the mobile unit delivered about 3,500 immunizations.
Partners for Healthy Kids employs two full-time registered nurses, a medical assistant, a driver and two community health workers. The community health workers play a key role, Mendez explains, in assessing the needs of the families of the children being vaccinated.
They look for factors like food insecurity, mental health concerns and whether families have adequate health insurance. If they spot a potential problem, they refer the families to other resources including Providence Little Company of Mary’s Community Health Insurance Program, which helps families in need enroll in programs like Medi-Cal and CalFresh. Almost every CHI employee on the outreach team is bilingual in English and Spanish, so language isn’t a barrier.
Answering the Need
Justin Joe, MPH, director of Providence Little Company of Mary’s CHI, has worked in the department for 15 years. He says Providence Little Company of Mary’s commitment to community health has grown dramatically over the years. “The department has close to tripled in size since I started,” he notes. CHI currently employs 85 people: 72 full time and 13 part time.
The Partners for Healthy Kids mobile clinic is the hospital’s oldest program, launched in 1994. Joe says that Little Company of Mary’s approach was unusual at the time. “Most nonprofit hospitals were doing philanthropy then—just writing checks. But we really wanted to fill a need.”
The Wilmington Wellness and Activity Center opened in 2014 and will be followed later this year by the debut of a similar facility in Lawndale.
Other CHI programs include Homeless Navigators—community health workers who connect unhoused people visiting the hospitals’ emergency departments with supportive services. In 2023, the program helped about 500 homeless people, including 150 who found housing. Additional emergency department community health workers also provide similar support for uninsured patients, connecting them to primary care.
Providence Little Company of Mary also supports the Vasek Polak Health Clinic in Hawthorne for uninsured or underinsured community members who need primary care. In 2023, approximately 2,600 people used its services.
Joe is understandably proud of the department he oversees. “The partnerships we’re investing into the community are unique to Providence Little Company of Mary,” he says. “With the opening of our new Wellness and Activity Center in Lawndale next to Anderson Elementary School next year, we can now reach more individuals and families and provide them with the care and resources they need to live healthier lives.”