Community Blog
Posted by The Molina Cares Accord

Meet the Winners of the UCLA Health Equity Challenge

The MolinaCares Accord (“MolinaCares”), in collaboration with Molina Healthcare of California (“Molina”), and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) have announced the winners in the inaugural Health Equity Challenge, a competition that provides UCLA graduate students the opportunity to respond to a health equity issue in California.

MolinaCares partnered with UCLA CHPR and provided a $125,000 grant to engage a diverse group of interdisciplinary students in developing solutions to California’s most pressing health equity concerns. Winners were selected by a five-member Independent Review Committee of leading California health care and equity leaders.

The winners, Angelica Johnsen, candidate for Doctor of Medicine, Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program and Alma Lopez, candidate for Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Policy dual degree, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, turned their ideas into full proposals that community-based organizations can implement.

The winning projects

The winning projects focused on a de-escalation toolkit for medical providers working with patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis (Johnsen); and an intervention program aimed at improving the quality of maternal mental health care for mothers of color in South Los Angeles (Lopez). Two community organizations will be awarded $50,000 each to implement the proposed projects. Johnsen and Lopez identified Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and SHIELDS for Families, respectively, to partner with to implement their unique proposals. The two winners will also receive an additional $2,500 to continue to document the impact of their project’s implementation.

MolinaCares’ grant for UCLA’s Health Equity Challenge is part of the MolinaCares California Equity and Accessibility Initiative, a $2 million effort launched in 2021 to advance health equity throughout the state.

“MolinaCares congratulates the winners and is thrilled to partner with UCLA in selecting this talented set of future health care leaders as they design innovations to reduce health disparities in communities throughout Los Angeles,” said Carolyn Ingram, executive director of The Molina Healthcare Charitable Foundation.

Meet our winners:

Alma Lopez

Project:

Work with community clinics to address gaps and disparities in maternal mental health, including developing a series of workshops for pregnant and recently pregnant women for education on peripartum mental health and recognition of symptoms.

Alma Lopez is a first-generation dual degree MD and Master of Public Policy student at UCLA, graduating in 2023. She was born and mostly raised in Los Angeles, where she noticed early on disparities in areas such as education, health, and housing across the city. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA in 2017. During this time, she mentored and tutored elementary and high school students from historically marginalized backgrounds, conducted research in the genetics of neurodegenerative diseases, and danced with the Grupo Folklorico de UCLA. She subsequently took a gap year during which she worked as a scribe and volunteered as a medical Spanish interpreter.

In 2018, Lopez entered medical school with the Program in Medical Education — Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA) at UCLA, which trains future physicians interested in addressing health disparities with a concurrent master’s degree. She has continued to mentor pre-medical students who are underrepresented in medicine and to engage in health disparities research. She hopes to complete a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, during which she will continue pursuing her passions for reproductive justice, health equity, and policy advocacy through an intersectional lens.

“As an aspiring OBGYN, I am interested in addressing disparities that lead to maternal morbidity and mortality, including maternal mental health conditions which disproportionately affect systemically marginalized groups. I hope that through the Health Equity Challenge, we can help address maternal mental health inequities among Los Angeles communities of color and low socioeconomic status, and bridge access gaps to compassionate quality care.”

Alma Lopez

Angelica Johnsen

Project:

Develop a de-escalation toolkit for medical providers working with patients who are experiencing mental health crises, providing guidance on de-escalating high-acuity mental health crises and stabilizing patients who are in distress, without correctional measures, such as incarceration, chemical, or physical restraints.

Angelica Johnsen is a rising fourth-year medical student in the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program. She hails from New Jersey and is the proud daughter of two Filipino nurses.

During her time in medical school, Johnsen has enrolled patients into health insurance, advocated for the rights of formerly incarcerated patients, volunteered with the LA Community Fridges project, and researched the expansion of Medicaid coverage for psychiatric medications.

In her free time, she belabors over inventing the perfect dessert and tries to organize her e-mail inbox, with varied levels of success. She intends to practice as a full-scope Family Medicine physician, emphasizing the expansion of mental health scope in the primary care setting and formalizing didactic education about medical practice in low-resource settings.