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Thousands receive free medical care at clinic

April 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A free health clinic opened its doors at the Los Angeles Sports Arena Tuesday to thousands of patients clamoring for dental, vision and medical care.The free health clinic will run through May 3. The clinic begins at 6 a.m. each day.

What if patients need follow-up care? Remote Area Medical is working with dozens of agencies to make sure that people who need additional care get placed with local doctors.

Patients registered in advance to see doctors at the event. The patients that registered in advance and received a nontransferable wristband were called in numerical order on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

Organizers say 1,200 additional wristbands will be handed out Wednesday, April 28. They will be available staring at 10 a.m. at the L.A. Sports Arena in the east parking lot. One wristband per person will be issued. Caregivers who are picking up the wristband for someone who is disabled or a child will have to accompany that person at the time of care.

Duarte resident Obiamaka Allagoa, 57, has not been able to find a job. She has not had medical insurance for five years. So many of the procedures she had done on Tuesday, like a mammogram, were long overdue.

"I have problems with my knees. I'm coughing. I have problems with my lungs. I ache all over," said Allagoa.

Rancho Santa Margarita resident Terri Cowdery, 43, has clinical depression. She has been on disability for 10 years, which is the same amount of time she has not seen a dentist.

"Root canal and fillings, you name it, I have got a lot of issues going on," said Cowdery.

These ladies were part of the 5,000 to 6,000 people who lined up for wristbands on Sunday for the chance to get free dental, vision and other types of medical care this week.

California First Lady Maria Shriver and other officials paid a visit.

"This is a great day for L.A., but it is also a very sobering and humbling moment in our state and in our country," said Shriver.

Shriver toured the Remote Area Medical second mission to Los Angeles. Last year the organization served about 6,300 people. Tuesday, organizers anticipated being able to serve up to 8,000.

"It is like this all over. Altogether in all 50 states we need to dig ourselves out of this hole," said Remote Area Medical founder Stan Brock.

It is a hole Cowdery says she is stuck in. She brings in too much to qualify for Medi-Cal and not enough to cover all of her care. She says it is a lot for her to deal with.

"People don't see why I am upset and sad. They don't see why I don't want to go on sometimes," said Cowdery.

Frank Carodine, 57, is homeless. In July, he found that his Medi-Cal insurance no longer covered dental and vision. He was thrilled when he heard he could get help at the free medical clinic.

"I have Medi-Cal, but it does not cover dentist or eyes," said Carodine. "I made it Sunday and I got a band."

Los Angeles resident Bernice Ritter, 80, was screened for glaucoma on Tuesday. She was one of thousands of people that were willing to wait several hours to receive free medical care.

"I don't see as well as I used to. But when you get to my age you won't either," said Ritter.

Dozens of people camped out overnight hoping to be the first ones in line. But the clinic operates using a wristband system.

Los Angeles resident Soni Asu came to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, but was turned away.

"If I had known about a wristband system I would have been here," said Asu. "I have documentation to prove how sick I am."

Many of the people with wristbands do not have health insurance and have not seen a doctor in years.

"There are certain things that you think won't matter, but in the future it does," said Exposition Park resident Maria Romualdo. "So I am just trying to check everything out as much as I can."

The doctors that are volunteering their services say that they have heard similar stories from everyone. People cannot afford the rising cost of medical care.

"They don't have access to medical care. They are very appreciative of us being here," said optometrist Dr. Stan Saulny. "I have heard a lot of thanks so far, so that's very rewarding for me."

Dental care is also in high demand at the free health clinic. Some patients received routine cleanings and others root canals. Garden Grove resident Jeff Mitchell had cavities removed.

"Some people complained about the line, but it is worth it," said Mitchell. "I mean, it's -- you stand in line for something like this two days if you have to, you know? They want 1,200 [dollars] at the dentist, money I don't have."

Remote Area Medical held an eight-day clinic at The Forum in Inglewood in August that drew more than 6,000 patients, but thousands more had to be turned away.

In recent years, the group has expanded its focus from rural areas in the Third World to address growing needs domestically, with 60 percent of its clinics within the United States.

Eyewitness News reporter Melissa MacBride and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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