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Free Health Clinics Highlight Growing Desperation

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Riverside event draws hundreds, Dr. Oz greets thousands at L.A. clinic

By Chris Levister –

The crowds lining up alongside the Quadrangle building on the campus of Riverside Community College Saturday weren't there for a rock concert or basketball game. They came to see a doctor or dentist for free – more than a year after Congress passed health care reform.

Diabetic Carla Matson lost her job along with her medical and dental insurance. Maggie Feingold works as a cook but can’t afford health insurance for her hypertension. They were among the hundreds of patients waiting before dawn at the site of a free health fair and clinic organized by the Riverside chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“We got here at three o’clock this morning. I haven’t seen a doctor or dentist in years.” said Casey Ramirez, who needs extensive dental work.

“I need a tooth extracted and a new pair of glasses,” said an elderly woman whose eye glass frames were held together with masking tape.

Blythe resident Masaya White unwrapped a wool scarf from her face clasped her hands and knelt in prayer.

“Father God, you know my pain,” she said pointing to several decayed, bleeding and missing teeth.

White’s prayer is one of desperation, joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to board what amounted to a medical lifeboat. Its 5:00 a.m. The doors wouldn't open for four hours, but people in pain didn't want to chance being left out.

“This infected tooth has been killing me for weeks. I can’t afford to get it extracted. Sometimes the pain is so great I get dizzy behind the wheel,” said Richard Burkes.

The young and the old spent the night in their cars, running the engine for heat. Burkes who drive for an auto transport company came with his wife and his daughter, asleep behind the front seats. The family slept in the parking lot for hours.

By the 9 a.m. start of the health fair, about 500 people had lined up for an offering of health insurance information, hearing and vision screenings for children, haircuts and manicures. But like the Burkes, the majority of people came for the dental care provided by the Auburn-based Flying Doctors.

The group, which usually flies to rural Latin-America made only i ts second appearance in the United States. Riverside is the first urban area the group has visited. “There really is a huge problem here in the United States. It’s not just in third world countries and places like Sudan or Haiti,” said organizer Yolanda Esquivel. "Our community is just as impoverished as any city in Latin America or Mexico."

Esquivel said so many people showed up to see a dentist that care had to be cut off at about 120 patients leaving out hopefuls like Joyce Onley who has been suffering for years with decaying tooth pain.

“That’s the lousy part of this job,” said volunteer Andrea Panasiuk.

“It hurts to know hundreds of people will be turned away. But the reality is that we can't help everybody.”

Dr. Oz volunteers at L. A. free clinic

54 miles west of Riverside at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena “America’s Doctor” Mehmet Oz greeted volunteer doctors and patients during a massive free healthcare clinic in Exposition Park.

CareNow, a Los Angeles-based non-profit group turned the arena floor into a giant clinic. Thursday 840 volunteers provided 1,800 medical, dental, and vision treatments to the uninsured and underinsured.

The four day clinic drew more than 5,000 patients. Outside the arena, Dr. Oz surveyed the long lines.

“It’s very humbling. This is not a dress rehearsal. The pain is real. I see the desperation. I see a lot of people who are ashamed,” he said. “Most of the people out here have jobs like the truck driver who has diabetes and hypertension. He is about to lose his foot so he can’t drive anymore. He has insurance through his employer but he can’t afford the $500 deductable, said Dr. Oz. “They feel invisible. They feel voiceless.”

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