UCLA volunteers provide free health care at clinic in downtown Los Angeles
Scores of UCLA physicians, dentists and ophthalmologists are among the hundreds of doctors volunteering at the CareNow/LA clinic providing free health care to nearly 5,000 uninsured and underinsured people.
More than 70 UCLA doctors in a variety of disciplines filled cavities, provided mammograms, completed cancer screenings, screened patients for glaucoma and cataracts, and donated many other services. The four-day clinic, which CareNow describes as the largest free health care clinic in the country, began on Thursday and will continue through Sunday, serving patients who waited in line earlier in the week to claim one of the coveted appointments.
UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute will also provide free surgery to 10 patients, said Faye Oelrich, the program manager of the UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic, which is also screening about 500 eye patients who are at risk for eye diseases like cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.
"We're seeing so many people whose vision has been blurry for years," Oelrich said. "One of our most touching cases was a young woman who has had a crossed eye since childhood, which you could tell she was very self-conscious about. She came to tears when we told her we could correct her eye with free surgery."
That wasn't the only case of tears, Oelrich said.
"I had another woman yesterday who has needed cataract surgery for years," she said. "She wouldn't have been able to pass the eye exam at the DMV, even with glasses, but she can't afford surgery. She didn't speak much English but broke down sobbing when she understood we would give her the surgery and said, 'I'm crying because I'm so happy.'"
Several of the two dozen ophthalmologists volunteering at the clinic have since signed up for extra shifts, Oelrich said. "The work is so gratifying," she said.
UCLA cardiologist and associate professor of medicine Ravi Dave (pronounced Da-vay) spent his day helping patients like Edmund Dominguez, a 53-year-old whose blood pressure was so high Dave warned him it was only a matter of time until he had a stroke if he didn't take medication. Treating patients in such serious need of care makes him feel like he's really contributing, Dave said.
"Today is special because we get to help the people who need help the most," he said.
UCLA dentist Edmond Hewlett paused to speak after treating a 4-year-old with a mouth full of cavities and said the day provoked mixed reactions in him.
"On the one hand, it's gratifying, and on the other hand, you see how much more need there is, and we can't do enough," he said. "It breaks your heart."
About 23 percent of Los Angeles County residents have no health insurance, according to CareNow. The CareNow/LA clinic continues at the L.A. Sports Arena near downtown Los Angeles through Oct. 23, serving an estimated 1,200 patients daily.