For the next week, doctors and dentists with the organization Remote Area Medical are offering free root canals, new glasses, and a range of other health care services. They’ve set up a temporary medical clinic at the Inglewood Forum. KPCC's Patricia Nazario was there Tuesday morning as thousands of patients lined up.
Patricia Nazario: At the doctor’s office it might be take a number and have a seat. But outside the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers, it was stand in line, take a number... and wait.
Patient 1: I was in line at what? 3:30 in the morning.
Nazario: What's your number?
Patient 1: 901.
Patient 2: Yeah, I been here since midnight. Some people been here since 9 o'clock, last night.
Nazario: Did you bring blankets and a pillow and a chair?
Patient 2: Yes, I did.
Charles Jackson: I came here at 4:30 this morning.
Nazario: That's Charles Jackson. He pulled number 1,260 out of the 1,500 slips volunteers distributed for the first day of treatments. Jackson, who’s in his fifties, sold life insurance and annuities. But his employer laid him off about a year ago.
Nazario: What kind of work are you hoping to get done?
Jackson: I'm hoping to get a root canal. Every time I drink some water, it kinda hurts.
Nazario: How much is a root canal, if you had to pay a dentist?
Jackson: I was told it's at least $400.
Nazario: Has that been stopping you from getting the work done? That price?
Jackson: Yeah, of course. $400 is hard to come by.
Volunteer (with bullhorn): There's no more dental today.
Jackson: Oh, we just heard it.
Volunteer (with bullhorn): If you want to see the dentist, you have to start all over again tomorrow.
Jackson: Oh, that's not fair. That's not fair!
Nazario: A volunteer tried to explain to the long line of people why the clinic was turning away so many who stood in line, even those who held numbers.
Stan Brock: We don't have enough volunteers out there to treat 1,500 people today.
Nazario: The founder of Remote Area Medical, the organization behind this volunteer-driven effort, is Stan Brock. Inside the Forum, he told reporters how the temporary clinic on the former basketball court will accommodate the patients who showed up.
Brock: Those that we can't see, we'll give a preferential number for tomorrow.
Nazario: Volunteers set up 100 dentist chairs and 35 dentists showed up. The clinic could have used 20 optometrists; five checked in on the first day. All the medical personnel donated their services. Brock said licensed professionals from other states were willing to travel to Los Angeles and volunteer their time, but state laws prohibit that.
Brock: Somebody needs to change the laws in the United States so that doctors and dentists and nurses who are willing to provide free care are allowed to cross state lines to provide that care.
Nazario: He went on to say that Tennessee is the only state in the union that does allow it. Even lawyers can cross state lines for a single proceeding or trial. After the news conference, Congresswoman Maxine Waters told Brock she's willing to introduce a similar law for medical professionals.
Maxine Waters: So, I know how to shape it, I think. So, that we can start.
Nazario: Start, she said, to break down barriers to quality medical care for the 47 million Americans without medical coverage. At town hall meetings across the country, politicians are debating federal proposals to accomplish that goal. Waters told reporters the temporary free clinic offers a different perspective on the problem.
Waters: You know, ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to have another story to tell when I get back to Washington, D.C. It won't necessarily be about what happened or did not happen in the town halls, it'll be about what happened here, today, in Inglewood.
Nazario: Like adults who waited more than 12 hours for free eyeglasses, because their Medi-Cal benefits eliminated that benefit.
Optometrist:Hold this... look through here. OK.
Nazario: Or the privilege of lying down and opening wide in a dentist's chair.
Victor Zalapa: I have a couple cavities and I have some pretty big holes in my teeth.
Nazario: Twenty-four-year-old Victor Zalapa works full-time at a group home. But he said medical coverage costs too much, so he opts out. Even talking about his hardship worked him up.
Zalapa: We're the richest country in the world and we can't really take care of our own citizens. That's sad.
Nazario: That gets you upset? How come?
Zalapa: It should be just a natural thing for citizens. To get.
Nazario: The nonprofit organization Remote Area Medical has devoted itself to providing quality medical care wherever people need it, in the Amazon region or across the United States. Since Stan Brock founded it a quarter-century ago, it’s sponsored almost 600 temporary clinics like the one in Inglewood. Organizers say they're already planning another visit to Southern California.