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In COACH for Kids program, LaMont Harrington is known for driving the extra mile to help others
When Cedars-Sinai reaches out to underserved communities to help improve their health status, two custom-built RVs that house mobile medical clinics play a key role. And it takes a special someone to navigate these big vehicles through the crowded byways and nerve-wracking traffic of sprawling Los Angeles – then to assist calmly with patients in need.
From the outset, those who work in the COACH for Kids and Their Families™ program in Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center recognized that driver LaMont Harrington had all the right qualities.
"We did a lot of interviewing for the position, but LaMont stood out," said Anne Traynor, RN, MN, FNP-BC, a nurse practitioner and clinical supervisor for the COACH program. "Every step of the way, everyone really liked him."
Though his background was as a trucker, Harrington's potential immediately was visible to Traynor's boss, COACH director Michele Rigsby Pauley, RN, MSN, CPNP.
"He had a positive attitude and was willing to learn the other skills that were required of the job," Traynor said. "Michele has taught me that sometimes it's attitude over ability that matters, and with LaMont we found a real gem."
Seeing him quietly in action explains all. On a recent Monday morning, Harrington, 50, went with his COACH colleagues to the 99th Street Elementary School. Across from a DWP pumping station and next to a trash-strewn lot, he wrangled a trio of anxious boys brought to the COACH site by their mothers for physical exams and vaccinations.
Harrington, who took part in certified nursing assistant training so he could work with patients, demonstrated the finer points of a stethoscope to his three reluctant clients. He listened to each boy's chest. He then let them put the device on and showed them how to hear their friends' heartbeats. As the boys laughed and joked and listened in wonder, Harrington quickly filled in their charts with their vital signs, information they barely noticed he was collecting. By the time it was their turn to enter the mobile medical clinic exam room to see Traynor, they were relaxed and confident.
"The No. 1 thing the parents say is they lost their health insurance and don't know how else they would care for their kids," Harrington said. "It's good that we come around to this part of town."
On this day, the COACH crew is serving children and families in South Los Angeles. It's Harrington's part of town. He was born and raised here, the second-youngest of seven children and the only boy.
"I've got six sisters," he said and laughed. "Helps you learn to get along with anybody."
Harrington's parents still live in his childhood home. As COACH's mobile clinic makes its rounds in neighborhoods around the city, Harrington invariably runs into people he grew up with. And after his seven years on the job, children who were once new and frightened patients greet him like an old friend.
"Just last week there were a couple kids that, the first time, they were scared of me," he recalled. "Now, they come asking for me."
Though Harrington's hard work is most visible while he is parked at a school helping the clinic staff, his day starts early. He usually begins at 6 a.m., ensuring the mobile medical clinic is clean, stocked and ready to roll. He drives four days a week to a different school or site. He finds a safe parking spot, then helps the medical staff with the day's clinic. After the last patient has been seen, Harrington is still at his duties, packing up the COACH and getting it back on the road. Back at Cedars-Sinai, Harrington stops by the lab to drop off the day's medical tests for processing.
"We're very lucky to have LaMont with us," said program director Rigsby Pauley. "His personality and attitude are wonderful, and he he's always willing to learn whatever is needed to help the team."
While driving a mobile medical unit or the skills of a nurse's assistant can be taught, Harrington's way with people is an innate gift.
"He's great with the kids and the families," Rigsby Pauley said. "He connects with them, from the little kids to the grandparents."
For Harrington, it's more than a job – it's a labor of love.
"I grew up here, and it's good to come back to a part of town that I know, to be able to give back to the community," he said. He looked around, then waved at a cluster of parents and children at the mobile medical clinics' main door.
"We do good work here," he said, and walked toward the waiting group. "For me, this is like coming back home."