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Free health clinic to return to Los Angeles in April [Updated]

March 24, 2010 |  2:31 pm

RAM A large-scale free mobile medical clinic that treated more than 6,300 uninsured and under-insured people last summer is scheduled to return to Los Angeles next month, volunteers and lawmakers said Wednesday.

Remote Area Medical, a Tennessee-based nonprofit known by the acronym RAM, plans to hold a clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena near USC from April 27 to May 3. The previous clinic was staged at the Forum in Inglewood.

[Updated 5:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post gave the dates of the clinic as April 25 to May 3. RAM officials are scheduled to begin setting up on April 25, but the clinic will not open to the public until two days later.]

At a news conference Wednesday held at the new location, lawmakers, joined by RAM founder Stan Brock, RAM sponsor and A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss and Los Angeles Coliseum Commission President Barry Sanders, emphasized the continued need for healthcare services despite the recent vote in Washington.

“The historic health reform legislation will mean many of the county’s 2.1 million uninsured residents will qualify for free Medicaid and federal subsidies to buy health insurance. However, the bill is just a beginning. Implementation will take place over four years,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We will continue to need events like RAM/LA to fill in the gaps and provide services to our uninsured throughout the county.”

The eight-day clinic at the Forum last August, the largest and most urban in RAM’s 25-year history, attracted 3,827 volunteers, including dentists, doctors and other healthcare workers who provided more than $2.8 million in free services.

But organizers failed to attract enough medical volunteers and had to turn away thousands of patients, treating about 700 a day compared with an expected 1,600, Brock said. At the Sports Arena, RAM is trying to attract enough dentists, doctors and food donors to treat and feed 1,200 patients a day, he said.

“When you turn away as many thousands of people are we did, and I was unfortunately the person who had to go out and give them the bad news, you want to go back and say, 'Let’s try it again,' ” Brock said in an interview with The Times. “These were nice folks. It never ceases to amaze me, every time we do one, the condition of people in this country and how many cannot get the basic care they need.”

Officials also said they have made changes that they believe will ensure more follow-up care for those seeking medical help at the upcoming clinic, including the use of electronic records that will be bar-coded with a unique number for each patient.

Moss, who visited the Forum clinic with his wife and saw the empty dental chairs and patients being turned away, said RAM organizers have had more time to plan the next clinic and he believes they will be better equipped to meet the local need.

“With the time we have, I believe we’re going to get much greater support from the medical community,” Moss said.

Last month, California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass sponsored legislation that would allow out-of-state doctors and other medical professionals to assist at short-term events such as RAM clinics that treat the uninsured and underinsured without losing their liability insurance.

“Maybe in a few years as we implement health reform this event will no longer be needed," Bass said Wednesday at the event.

In a written statement, Bass called Los Angeles County “ground zero for the uninsured in this state. It simply doesn’t make sense to make good Samaritans jump through regulatory and legal hoops when we have thousands of people that need care"

Brock, who has testified before Congress in support of legislation similar to what Bass has proposed, said it would, “Make a big dent in the problem” of attracting qualified doctors.

Additional information about attending the clinic or volunteering to provide medical services is available on Remote Area Medical’s website www.ramusa.org.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Volunteers provide free dental care during an event at the Forum in Inglewood held in August. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times