Donald Washington: 23 Years of Bringing Healthcare to LA
Aug 13, 2017 Cedars-Sinai Staff
For Donald Washington, taking the job at Cedars-Sinai was a no-brainer: he liked the medical field, he liked helping people, and he liked driving trucks.
As a COACH for Kids mobile medical unit driver, Donald literally brings healthcare services to the families of Los Angeles. The COACH (Community Outreach Assistance for Children's Health) for Kids program, part of Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center, has two mobile medical clinics that visit low-income LA neighborhoods to provide vaccines, wellness checkups, vision tests, hearing tests, and more to children and parents.
"It gives me so much joy to come to work, get in the mobile unit, and know I'm going to help a child and save lives."
Before he became a driver for COACH, Donald worked as an emergency room technician and then as a truck driver. He spent almost 40 years driving across the US as a long-haul truck driver, delivering produce to the East Coast and hauling freight back to the West Coast.
"I like helping children and families, that's really what I love the most about my job. And driving," says Donald, who has been driving a COACH for Kids mobile medical unit since the program launched in 1994.
Ready for a change
After 37 years, Donald was tired of driving big rigs, he missed being home, and felt he needed a change. The job at Cedars-Sinai combined his love for driving with his desire to help people.
Two weeks after he applied, Donald got a call offering a job driving the COACH mobile health unit.
"Driving the mobile unit is totally different from driving a big rig," says Donald. "I'm able to be home every night and it gives me so much joy to come to work, get in the mobile unit, and know in the back of my head I'm going to help a child and save lives."
"Treat people the same you want to be treated. My mom taught us that, and I carry that with me every day."
Be honest, work hard, and respect people
Donald grew up the youngest of four siblings, with a mother who was "sweet as can be, but strict."
Her mantra: Be honest, work hard, and respect people.
"Treat people the same you want to be treated," says Donald. "My mom taught us that, and I carry that with me every day."
Donald says he applies his mother's advice to his day-to-day responsibilities when he's out in the community. He makes sure the mobile unit is always brought back to the hospital safely, he ensures everyone who is getting treated and who works on the unit is safe, and he always looks professional.
"We're representing a big hospital. People are always looking at you and watching what you're doing," says Donald. "I love my job and I do it with a smile, but also with dignity, great patience, and a good spirit."
More than driving
Donald's job isn't just driving around Los Angeles. He's also in charge of making sure the mobile unit is clean, maintained, and stocked with medical supplies.
"I love my job and I do it with a smile, but also with dignity, great patience, and a good spirit."
And sometimes additional responsibilities pop up.
It was June 2007 in Echo Park when Donald turned the key and the 42-foot mobile unit wouldn't start. It was too big to tow and a mechanic wasn't available to fix it until the next day.
"So I spent the night on the mobile unit," says Donald.
COACH Program Director Michele Rigsby Pauley insisted on a hotel room, but Donald said no thanks. "I could have left it there, but I wanted to protect it."
"I guess it's because I have a lot of pride in my job," he says.