Lorna Johnson

Lorna M. Johnson is a medical midwife, health expert and philanthropist. She started and runs the Advanced Family Care Medical Group in East Los Angeles, along with the non-profit organization Compassion for Teen Life. She is top supporter of President Obama and has been selected for appointment to the “President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts, The Kennedy Center”. Lorna hosted the African First Ladies while they were in the U.S. for the 2013 African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles. Honorary Consul, Jamaica – Los Angeles

When I was ten years old, a woman that I thought was an angel came to my house. She was dressed in all white and went into the room where my mother was screaming in pain. When she came out, she was carrying my youngest sister.

Providing girls and women with quality reproductive health care not only saves lives, but it helps break the cycle of poverty.

That was the first time I had seen the critical impact of quality reproductive health care and its impact on women and children. I have learned since then the enormous value of comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare during every phase of a woman’s life, including sexual education, family planning and trained assistance at delivery. Every woman in labor should have an angel, a nurse mid-wife, come to her door as my mother did.

My mother was a business-woman who started by selling bits of coal, then making children’s clothes and finally selling groceries and furniture. My mother was a community leader in Jamaica, and started one of the largest chicken farms in Clarendon, Jamaica. Just like my mother, I care for the people in my community and I am a business-woman at heart; I am my mother’s daughter.

My mother spent most of her time and energy on what was best for her children. I remember when I was four-teen years old she sent me to live with my eldest brother in Toronto, Canada to get a better education. I spent my teenage years in Toronto, growing in aspiration and education. After my high-school graduation I went to nursing school at Humber College in Toronto. After nursing school, I moved to Los Angeles to study and work; obtaining a degree in healthcare management and ultimately a master’s degree in nursing and midwifery. I wanted to help women the way I had witnessed that angel help my mother bring life to my youngest sister when I was a child.

I always wanted to have a private practice; however, in California mid-wives were required to work under the supervision of a doctor. For a short while I persuaded a pediatrician to work with me. I would deliver the babies and he would give pediatric care to them after their birth. The pediatrician that I was working with suggested that I should only have three percent ownership, because he was the doctor and I was only a mid-wife.

This kind of bias is still very strong, even though evidence shows that mid-wives are excellent gate-keepers and counselors. Generally, we are very close to the community and able to give courage and comfort to those who fear hospitals and health-care. I stayed firm with my vision and began to introduce Southern California hospitals to what independent midwifery benefits could look like in association with resident physicians. This was in 1995.

Shortly after that, I set up the Advanced Family Care Medical Group in Los Angeles. Advanced Family Care now includes general health and dental health services as well as women’s and children’s health care including pregnancy and childbirth. My practice was eventually busier than that of any physician in the area. Often my private practice was packed with teenagers talking about school issues, sexual worries and how to practice safe sex.

It is critical to give teenagers access to quality reproductive health care: America’s teen pregnancy rate has been declining steadily, but it is still higher than the rates in Canada or Britain (approximately 275,000 a year). Eighty-seven percent of those teenage births occur among unmarried girls.

Not only is this a problem in the United States, but it is an even bigger problem in many developing countries. There are currently more than 222 million girls and women who want to delay or avoid pregnancy, but lack access to quality family planning. And this has devastating implications, particularly for teens. Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls in developing countries.

In 1999 I started the ‘Compassion for Teen Life’ organization (CFTL), a non-profit organization that works with low-income young people in Los Angeles providing education and offering solutions for healthy and safe sexual lifestyles. CFTL started a toy-drive in 2000 and was able to construct a fully-functioning computer lab in Clarendon, Jamaica as well as providing $100,000 of donations toward helping the underserved.

This year CFTL established its first scholarship in Jamaica in honor of my late sister Dr. Ionie “Gem” McPherson, who herself was an educator. The scholarship was established at Northern Caribbean University, formerly West Indies College, one of the most prestigious and oldest universities in the Caribbean.

Providing girls and women with quality reproductive health care not only saves lives, but it helps break the cycle of poverty. When girls can delay pregnancy, they can stay in school and pursue an income for their family. When they can plan and manage their births, their children are healthier and more educated. Nurse-midwives play a critical role in providing this life-saving and life-changing care, from education to family planning to maternal health care. We must continue to empower nurse-midwives to serve on the frontlines of the healthcare system.

My mother passed a year ago in Jamaica, and today I am very proud to be able to carry on her legacy and her work in Jamaica, as an angel; working for our youth.