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Free health clinic treats 1,200 patients on opening day

More than 1,200 people flocked to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on Tuesday for the start of a weeklong free clinic.

Organizers tried to shorten the lines this year by distributing color-coded wristbands in advance, signifying the day and time when patients will be treated, about 1,200 a day.

Click map to get directions to the free
 health clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Source: Google maps

But scores of those with orange Tuesday wristbands lined up outside the arena overnight anyway, concerned they would miss their chance for free care from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Many did not have health insurance, or had insurance that did not cover eye and dental care provided at the clinic. Dozens more without wristbands also showed up hoping to get inside.

They were told to return Wednesday at 10 a.m., when about 1,600 remaining wristbands will be distributed. They left without incident, most vowing to return.

Wristbands are numbered, and patients are treated in order, with groups such as parents and children allowed in based on the highest number among them.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, clinic volunteers called out for the first patient. No one responded. So they called No. 2. No. 2, Alisha Brown, is an unemployed mail carrier from Los Angeles. Brown wept as she was ushered inside.

Beside her was Christi Thornton of Inglewood, just licensed as a phlebotomist and also looking for work. The pair met Sunday while waiting for wristbands outside the arena, stayed in touch and waited together Tuesday morning.

“It means everything,” Thornton said of the clinic, “An opportunity to get glasses, dental work — that’s important when you’re trying to get a job.”

Within the hour, Brown had two teeth pulled and Thornton had a new filling. Brown was disappointed to discover she could not get caps on her teeth or a partial bridge. Volunteer dentists are not performing molar root canals, either.

By afternoon, hundreds of patients waited in red folding chairs on the arena floor for eye exams, dental cleanings, HIV tests and Pap smears, among other services. Some eye care stations and dental chairs were unstaffed.

Organizers said they had fewer than the 300 medical volunteers expected, partly due to cancellations, partly due to low turnout among doctors.

They still need dermatologists, ophthalmologists, obstetricians, gynecologists and family practice doctors, said Dr. Natalie Nevins, who was coordinating medical care at the clinic for nonprofit sponsor Amrit Davaa World Health.

Nevins and other organizers said they also need nurse practitioners and general volunteers to help usher patients through treatment stations.

“It’s always a challenge to make it work,” Nevins said of the clinic, urging doctors to participate because “this is an L.A.. event. This is us showing L.A. we care.”

Shortly before noon, as Nevins checked on doctors and Brown and Thornton waited for new glasses, the last of 1,200 patients filed inside and Maria Shriver arrived to tour the clinic. She saw women who had never had Pap smears, mammograms or dental exams.

She shook hands and spoke with Freddie Graham, 61, a retired LAX security supervisor without the health insurance to pay for dental care and checkups for her diabetes. Shriver was joined by, among others, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Councilman Bernard Parks and Stan Brock, founder of clinic sponsor Remote Area Medical, a Tennessee-based nonprofit.

“This is a great day for L.A. but it’s also a sobering moment in our state and our country,” Shriver told the crowd. “You walk through here and you see the need.”

Asked whether she would convey what she had seen to her husband, who eliminated the state’s Denti-Cal program for low-income adults last year, Shriver said, “I don’t need to tell the governor—he and everyone knows what the budget situation is. California’s issues are not unique.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske at the Los Angeles Sports Arena

Photo: Dental patients get treatment from Remote Area Medical team members at the L.A. Sports Arena on Tuesday. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Map: Location of free clinic. Click to get directions. Source: Google maps

Click for complete Times coverage of the free clinic

Comments () | Archives (8)

I notice that the photograph shows dentistry being done on people and that the article states that their insurance doesn't cover dental or vision, assuming they have any insurance at all. As a practicing dentist for over 15 years I am here to tell you that all the insurance in the world isn't going to help you if you eat sugary junk food, drink over sweetened soda and never pick up a toothbrush or dental floss! I'm all about helping the less fortunate, and dentistry has a stellar record where that is concerned, but so much dental disease can be eliminated with personal responsibility.

I suppose we can call this Republicare.

Must be part of our new free healthcare bill? So, in the future, I guess this is how we are going to see the Dr.?

I'm giddy with excitement.

African Americans are not the only people suffering from the lack of health care so you(The Times)don't need to keep using them as your poster child for healthcare reform. You have my permission to use whites, jews, hispanics, and others in your headline photos.

Writing from Halifax, Nova Scotia ( which is part of that loosely knit federation called Canada) I've always enjoyed reading the LA Times and other US papers to see how the other half lives.

I am intriqued by the tone of this article which is that it's a travesty that people have to line up at a free clinic to get vision and dental care.

Our single payer system provides for basic health care... essentially covering catastrophic illness and primary health care only. It does not cover eyeballs and teeth. If those people interviewed by the reporter lived here they could wait 'till the cows come home for a free vision or dental clinic. It just ain't gonna happen. Cash, Visa, or insurance to see a dentist or optometrist in these parts.

I recently had a tooth capped by my dentist - $400.00 and this was for a bicuspidate! Incisors cost more... much, much more. Something like center ice seats at a King's game. Luckily for me he accepted Visa.

An eye exam cost me $100.00 plus $300.00 for a new pair of driving glasses. I fixed the old ones with a twist tie and use them at home. By the way the new ones don't make me look one bit younger.

The next time you decide to hold a free clinic in LA let me know. Even with the air fare I figure I can save money and I hear the weather is better.

This is Obamacare in action. This will be the middle class in a few years. The poor will have government paid insurance.

We still will need free clinics like this., It will just be for other people.

Thanks Obama and the week kneed Democrats who caved in to pressure

But jt, if people did as you suggest, how would you pay your bills?

This is what has resulted from the delay of real healthcare reform for so many years. Millions of uninsured people so desperate for health and dental care that they have to line up for hours day after day, to receive care from dedicated doctors who take their commitment to caring for people seriously.

This is the result of the Republican vision of healthcare, not so-called "Obamacare"


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