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Free health clinic runs out of appointments, too few medical volunteers cause delays


By 11 a.m. Wednesday all appointments to a massive weeklong free health clinic were gone. Those left in line were turned away.

With more than 1,000 people waiting outside Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, organizers realized early that demand would exceed availability. 

Instead of 1,200 wristbands to distribute as they originally said, volunteers were left with only 750. The lower number was the result of significant overflow on the clinic's first day.

Despite staying open until 8 p.m., two hours later than scheduled, organizers said by day's end they had to ask 630 people to come back later for additional services.

Stan Brock, who founded the nonprofit Remote Area Medical, which organized the clinic, said a shortage of volunteers, particularly dentists, caused the overflow. Although the clinic has 94 dental chairs, Brock said 20 were empty much of Tuesday.

And even fewer dentists signed up to volunteer Wednesday and Thursday, he said. The experience on the first day raised questions about whether the clinic can meet it's daily goal of serving 1,200 patients.

Brock said the shortage of volunteers highlights the importance of pending state legislation that would allow out-of-state doctors to volunteer at the clinic.

"That is absolutely vital," he said. "I could have recruited another 20 or 30 volunteers and you know they're going to be here because they buy the airfare and take time off."

Some people waited overnight two days in a row for a chance at an appointment.

Fabrizio Mangandi, 41, was one of the lucky ones who got a wristband. The Ralph's grocery clerk lifted his shirt to reveal stitches. He recently had his gall bladder removed. His said after his insurance charged him a $5,000 deductible he could not afford to have the stitches removed.

"I'm already in debt," he said. "This is disaster relief."

Jeff Washington, 39, of Los Angeles and wife Lakishi Washington, 33, brought their 5-month-old son Ausar to the arena at about 8 a.m. They were turned away shortly before 11 a.m. when it was clear there would not be enough wristbands to go around.

The family does not have health insurance and had not seen a dentist or optometrist recently. The Washingtons said that without the clinic, the scores of people waiting behind them would probably just go without care.

Some ahead of them in line said the felt both fortunate for themselves and bad for those left out.

Eugene Martensen, 34, a disabled cabinet maker from San Pedro, got a wristband after waiting overnight. He surveyed the line of people who came later and were being told there was no more room, including would-be patients with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

"It hurts me to see an elderly person left out and I get in," he said.

Organizers more than doubled their capacity to treat patients this year, from about 19 medical stations to 40 stations, said Dr. Natalie Nevins, the clinic's medical director. But the extra room does little good without volunteer medical professionals to fill it.

"We need optometrists and ophthalmologists desperately," Nevins said.

Of eight women's health rooms available Wednesday, only three had doctors volunteering, Nevins said.

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

Video: Hundreds of patients make their way onto the floor of the Los Angeles Sports Arena for treatment on the first day of Remote Area Medical's second mobile clinic here. The clinics runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. through May 3. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Click for complete Times coverage of the free clinic

Comments () | Archives (28)

Ya gotta love the LA Times. There wasn't a shortage of irresponsible people needing healthcare, there was a shortage of professionals willing to provide that care for free, on their own time.

Isn't condemning the poor for their poverty anti-Christian? Ever in the history of the world was there a country that called the poverty-stricken "irresponsible"? Right-wingers disgust me.

Why don't they do it on weekends when "maybe" more dentist will be available.

@James - how is being poor "irresponsible"? Do you honestly believe people choose a life of poverty over one of affluence? For your lack of intelligence and empathy you have my pity.

Losers and parasites disgust me. But look on the bright side, I don't get a welfare check or report to a parole officer so the chances we will ever meet are slim.

is this obamacare?

What a great effort! I applaud the volunteers! Come Dentists', Health care workers get on the train and help. After the last "gold rush" that you most likly profited from, this would be good therapy for you, something to help to get back on the ground. It's good for us all!

Sophie, left-wingers who want the government to provide everything by taking it from those who are productive instead of cultivating opportunities for everyone to be productive, disgust me. How's that?

Yeah. I agree with James! Why should hard-working, wealthy, privileged, skilled, "responsible" people be asked to give their time for FREE? For what purpose? To help a bunch of irresponsible, poor people (mostly minorities by an absolute coincidence). The outrage...how dare they ask that people in the best possible position to really make a difference in people's lives. James--you're the man. I am certain there is a special place in the afterlife for you, starts with an "h" and rhymes with Hell.

This is right out of Haiti...

Folks - take note that this is the future state of Healthcare for all of us. One of the these folks works at Ralphs which is owned by a multi-billionaire. Is there any reason why he should be showing up at a free clinic?

If you had paid attention to the news reports, James, you would have discovered that the vast majority of people needing health care are either employed full time or disabled or retired. In other words, not lazy - unlike you, with your kneejerk and unresearched assumptions.

Condeming the poor for their poverty isn't anti-christian, in fact, holding the poor responsible for their financial status is critical to Christianity's success (i.e Joel Osteen, Trinity Broadcast, Saddleback). If you po', you no faith.

Private medical practitioners usually generate more business on the weekends. So, I doubt focusing on the weekend dates will help too much.

Besides, there are weekend dates :) I'm volunteering Saturday.

I saw lots of gold rings,gold ear rings and some pretty fancy cars and these are the poor?

the lack of volunteers has much more to do with RAM not having an ability to play well with potential volunteers in LA, not the need to change legislation in our state.

If it's not working ask yourself why. There are many who have offered services that were refused or not even responded to. This is not rural America. This is a massive city, and these organizers need to spread past what they know and open up and out of their comfort zone.

Stan Brock and his crew need to recognize that they need help and be willing to accept it. Angelinos are a very giving group...

Exactly what will happen in four years when "everyone" has healthcare, but no "extra" doctors are available to take care of them!

Hey James. Did you ever hear the saying people in glass houses shoulnd't throw stones? You too could be one of those "irresponsible people" if you lost your job. Its easy for people like you who think the world revolves around them and they're entitled but no one else is, to judge others. I work in a hospital and see lots of patients with no insurance. yes, there are some people who have issues, but the large majority got there becsaue of bad luck, a bad economy or a serious illness and their insurance droped them. So reserve your judgement for yourself. A little insight might be a good thing for you.
P.S. This is exactly why we need to have Health Care system in this country that actually works. Thank God we finally got Health Care Reform in place!

I actually heard a radio broadcast that had a clip of an ignorant ingrate that hadn't bothered to follow the procedures complaining loudly and bemoaning his having to wait

Sadly, this was predictable. While no one wants to beat up on an organization that's trying to help the needy, the lead RAM organizers failed to work cooperatively with local community leaders to coordinate both medical and non-medical volunteers. The result: over-promising and under-delivering much needed medical help.

Hey Nero fiddle. You named yourself very appropriately You clearly are fiddling while Rome is burning. Its people like you that give this country a bad name

I applaud the volunteers who took the time to help these people. What seems to go unnoticed are the number of people WITH health insurance who can't afford to go to the doctor b/c their deductibles are so high (the guy w/stitches and the $5,000 deductible, for ex.) Thats why we should've had a public option. Doctors Without Borders will regularly be setting up shop around the country in the next few years if we don't drastically change our way of doing things.

"The Ralph's grocery clerk lifted his shirt to reveal stitches. He recently had his gall bladder removed. His said after his insurance charged him a $5,000 deductible he could not afford to have the stitches removed."

say what? if this is true he's the one that selected the high deductible and explain to me how if he paid his deductible he needed to pay it again to get the stitches out - methinks something fishy here

RAM should be commended for wanting to serve so many people who are without health insurance. The venue is a great choice. After volunteering from 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Sports Arena, it was easy to see that their plan was great, but their preparation was too small. Without knowing how medical professionals were recruited and why not enough have responded, there are other logistical potholes that this event is facing. I e-mailed some observations to RAM and hope that they are received in the intended spirit.

Urban rescue work is different from rural American rescue work or remote jungle work because people will literally come from all directions for services or help and deplete resources much quicker than anticipated. If RAM attempts to hold another clinic in Los Angeles, I hope that they will cast a wider net and seek support and volunteers for the planning phase long before they announce the dates and location to the public.

Half of my Opticianry classmates at Hacienda La Puente Adult school will be volunteering this Monday. I’m excited to be part of this.

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