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Stragglers plead their cases to secure free health clinic appointments

April 26, 2010 |  6:06 pm

Stephanie Holloway, 46, arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena about 11 a.m. Monday, a day late to get a wristband for the  free mobile health clinic that begins Tuesday.

A sign on a door read: “No wristbands.” Mn10_l1i96qnc

Cora Russell, 72, was waiting outside in her electric wheelchair. Undaunted by the sign, Russell drove herself into the arena. Holloway followed.

When a clinic volunteer tried to turn them away, Holloway balked.

“I can barely see out of my eye,” she said.

Russell reached into her mouth and pulled out her worn upper dentures.

“My Medicare won’t pay for my teeth,” she said.

Don Manelli, an organizer with Remote Area Medical, the Tennessee-based nonprofit sponsoring the clinic, arrived on the arena floor as volunteers continued to set up dental chairs and other equipment.  People seeking care had been told to come Sunday to secure an appointment, and nearly 5,600 had done so, many waiting overnight in a rock concert-style line that eventually wrapped around the arena.

But organizers hoped to help 8,400 people over the seven-day clinic that ends May 3. Appointments for the final day, about 1,200, were being held in reserve. That left about 1,600 slots available.

Manelli took stock of the women and made an exception. He and a volunteer snapped wristbands on Holloway and Russell.

Soon, a small line of would-be patients formed.

There were two house painters who needed glasses for night school. A young mother complained of mysterious stomach pain. A disabled nurse and truck driver both need treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes.

Volunteers gave them all wristbands.

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

Among them was Mike Kilgore, 51, an unemployed construction and aerospace worker. Kilgore said he drove about 270 miles overnight from Bishop, Ca., in his motor home to get his teeth fixed. Without dental insurance, the Navy veteran said he could not find treatment locally.

“Things are tough,” Kilgore said, “You’ve got to do what you can do. I don’t have insurance, but I’ve got time.”

After everyone in line got a green wristband, which guaranteed them appointments Friday, volunteers closed the arena doors about 1 p.m. Everyone else would have to return Wednesday when the final wristbands will be distributed starting at 10 a.m.

Gwen White, 47, one of the lucky few in line to secure appointments Monday, propped herself up outside on two blue milk crates. White, a disabled truck driver, needs two knee replacements and can barely walk. She cannot afford a wheelchair. She also cannot afford to repair her chipped teeth, which a dentist said would cost $3,500, to buy glasses or get tested for diabetes.

She plans to get treated for as many of her ailments as possible at Friday’s clinic.

And this time, she said, she will line up early.

“People are going to come from everywhere,” she said.

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

Photo: Top, a volunteer makes his way past vacant dentist chairs a day before the Remote Area Medical clinic opens. Right, RAM's L.A. coordinator Jean Jolly, facing camera, gets a hug of gratitude from Claire M. Akre after Akre received a wristband allowing her entry to the clinic during its weeklong run. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Click for complete Times coverage of the free clinic

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