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UCLA doctors treat L.A.'s uninsured at free clinic

Date: 10/02/2012
Contact: Enrique Rivero

For Gilda McKoy, the Care Harbor health clinic at the L.A. Sports Arena was a godsend. The 58-year-old was experiencing pain in her knees, and it had been quite some time since her last blood pressure check and pap smear. Lacking medical insurance, she had been praying for help when she heard about the annual clinic, where she celebrated her birthday on Sept. 28 by receiving a free health exam.
 
McKoy was one of nearly 3,800 patients who lined up for health care services provided by a small army of volunteer health care professionals - including nearly 200 volunteers from the UCLA Health and the schools of dentistry and nursing. Organized by Care Harbor in collaboration with L.A. Care Health Plan and Dignity Health, and co-sponsored by the UCLA Health, the Sept. 27-30 clinic provided free medical, dental and vision services for those who are uninsured or otherwise can't afford proper health care.
 
"God is really working when you pray," said an appreciative McKoy. "God is good, and these people who are doing this, may God bless them."

The UCLA volunteers provided on-the-spot treatment for a wide variety of ailments and, in some cases, gave  referrals for followup care.

Dr. Carole Mangione gives Gilda McKoy a checkup.
Dr. Carole Mangione gives Gilda McKoy a much-appreciated checkup.
For Dr. Carole Mangione, professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine, volunteering at the clinic reflected her concerns about the acute need for health care among that L.A.'s underserved - and oftentimes unemployed - population. 
  
"It's sad so many people need services like this in Los Angeles," said Mangione, who added, "I don't think events like this will disappear after the Affordable Care Act is implemented. Since the act doesn't include undocumented people, Los Angeles will continue to need these clinics."

Dr. Anne Coleman, professor-in-residence and director of Jules Stein Eye Institute's community outreach, led a team of 17 volunteer UCLA ophthalmologists who saw patients with diabetes-related eye illnesses, as well as conditions like glaucoma, cataracts and keratoconus, a deformity of the cornea. This is the fourth year in a row that Coleman has volunteered.

"I think it's a very important part of life to give back," Coleman said. "I've been given a lot and it's nice to see how engaged UCLA is in community outreach."
 
Professor of Dentistry Dr. Edmond Hewlett, who organized the School of Dentistry's contingent, remarked on the huge volume of patients that his group treated - halfway through the first day, they had already seen 50 patients - and the severity of their problems. Many patients suffered from severe tooth decay and infections that, Hewlett noted, can be related to diabetes,  heart problems and other health conditions. And although he was pleased to see the dental school team perform hundreds of cleanings, fillings and extractions and even make temporary dentures to replace front teeth, it still wasn't enough, he said.

UCLA dentists performed exams and filled cavities.
UCLA dentists performed exams, filled cavities and even made temporary dentures.
"Everyone we treated needed more than we could do - every one of them," Hewlett said. "It sends a graphically clear message that there is a great need for dental service in this community."
 
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Dr. Derjung Tarn, one of 14 UCLA family physicians at the clinic, volunteers annually at the clinic. Year after year, she said, she has seen seen a large number of patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, hepatitis, thyroid problems and other serious health issues. She has also had the opportunity to reassure many patients that their mysterious lumps and bumps aren't signs of something worse

"This clinic is needed because all these people don't know where else to go for health care," Tarn said. "If anything, this helps people know where the resources are."
 
UCLA's volunteers also reported benefiting from the clinic. Among them was Juan Cabrales, who recently completed the UCLA International Medical Graduates (IMG) program, which prepares bilingual medical school graduates from Central and South America to compete for family residency training programs in California and, eventually, work in underserved communities. While he's not yet licensed to practice medicine, Cabrales worked at the clinic with Dr. Michelle Bholat, professor of family medicine and executive director of IMG, as a Spanish-language interpreter and helping to obtain patients' medical histories. The experience, he said, was a valuable opportunity to work with the kinds of patients he will eventually serve as a physician. 

Jules Stein Eye Clinic came fully equipped with its mobile vehicle.

Jules Stein Eye Clinic came fully equipped with its mobile vehicle.

"This gives us exposure to actual patients," Cabrales said. "If we can help with anything -  including [translating] Spanish - that's good enough for us."
 
Ekaterina Vaisberg, one of 14 UCLA medical students who took part, said the clinic gave her a taste of the future she is preparing for.
 
"I went into medicine to work with underserved populations," Vaisberg said. "You really get to see the diversity of Los Angeles and work with a great population."