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Thousands line up to get appointments at free health clinic

April 25, 2010 |  9:33 am

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More than 3,000 people lined up Sunday morning to sign up for treatment at a massive free health clinic that will begin Tuesday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

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

Organizers of the free clinic, which served more than 6,300 people during its first visit to Los Angeles in August, have said those seeking help must pre-register Sunday, a change they hope will reduce waits and leave fewer people turned away.

Those at the front of the line had packed duffel bags and folding chairs to wait overnight in brisk temperatures.

Cindy Williams, 48, took several buses from her home in Twentynine Palms to secure her place, arriving well before dawn. William hopes to see a dentist. She lost her job as a sales clerk last year, then saw her state Denti-Cal insurance cut just as she was about to have her two front teeth extracted and replaced. A dentist told her it would cost $2,000.

"There's no jobs and unemployment doesn't cover it," she said.

Many of those waiting to get appointments were unemployed, disabled or retired. Others had jobs-just not health insurance.

Mn2_l1g409nc Megan Jones, 23, of Santa Clarita works part time for a real estate title company. A high school graduate, she lives with her parents but cannot afford health insurance.

She said she needs to have all four wisdom teeth extracted and a root canal. She called USC, and they said it would cost at least $300 per tooth. She considered seeing a dentist in Mexico, but said she would need at least $1,000 cash. She does not have good enough credit for a loan.

"This is a dream come true," Jones said of the opportunity to take care of her dental woes at no cost.

Waiting nearby was Kathleen Weaver, 52, of Tujunga, a part-time crossing guard. Weaver said she injured her top teeth in a bicycle accident last year and needs them pulled and replaced with dentures. One tooth hurt so bad, she said, she pulled it herself at home, numbing herself with a few shots of liquor.

Mn3_l1g41pnc "If they had more of these [free clinics], there would be less strain on the social services system," Weaver said.

Those vying for what organizers said will be about 1,200 appointments daily with dentists, eye doctors and general practitioners brought along their children, siblings and elderly parents. Los Angeles police and volunteers reported no incidents overnight, and the line remained orderly by morning.

Anthony Jackson, 71, of Los Angeles is a retired mail clerk and nurse who is covered by Medicare. But his glasses have not been replaced in three years and, like Williams and about 3 million low-income Californians, he lost his Denti-Cal coverage as the state cut services due to a massive budget deficit. Jackson arrived in a wheelchair with his in-home health services aide, who also needed to see a dentist.

"It's kind of hard to ignore when somebody waits all night outside to see a dentist," said Don Manelli, one of the organizers with the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Remote Area Medical, the nonprofit running its second clinic in Los Angeles. He said of the effort: "It's not a cure, but it's a big band aid and people are hemorrhaging."

Manelli said clinic volunteers are scheduled to begin distributing wristbands at 9 a.m. Sunday at folding tables in a fenced area near the front of the line.

He said they have recruited more medical volunteers than last year, but still need opticians and have room for more dentists. Medical volunteers can register at the clinic, which starts Tuesday and runs through May 3 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but they must bring their California professional licenses to see patients.

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

Photos: A long line forms outside Los Angeles Sports Arena near downtown as people wait to pre-register for the free mobile clinic that will begin Tuesday. Gloria Talbot, 55, says she has a tooth infection and needs antibiotics. She is in a wheelchair because she was in an accident at work and then had a stroke. Maria Cortez gets a wristband that will allow her to receive free healthcare on Wednesday. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times 

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

Click for complete Times coverage of 
the free clinic
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