Health

Thousands of LA’s uninsured, underinsured brave lines for free health care

Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Eduardo Zavala of Anaheim chooses new eyeglasses; he hasn't been able to afford to buy new ones.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Dr. Chris Lewis, left, removes a lipoma from a patient's back in the free clinic's surgery section.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Volunteers Yvonne Word, left, and Rachel Khoe, middle, conduct an eye exam with Evi Belt of Glendora.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Dr. Chris Lewis prepares to perform surgery on the three-day free clinic's first morning..
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Lidocaine is drawn into a syringe while a patient is prepared for surgery during the free clinic.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Thelma Goodlitt tries on eyeglasses during the three-day Pathway to Health free clinic at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Wendy Hamilton, a family nurse practitioner, conducts an eye pressure exam.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Thousands waited in line overnight to get into the Los Angeles Convention Center Wednesday for the first of three days of free eye exams, dental care, minor surgeries and more.

While past large free clinics have offered dental, eye and primary care, this week's effort is different because it also offers the minor surgeries and mental health screenings. In addition, about three dozen people who signed up in advance will get more complex surgeries – like hernia repair – for free at White Memorial and Glendale Adventist Hospitals.

After the doors opened, long lines curled around the building. 

Gilda Martinez said a surgeon removed a golf ball-sized fatty tumor from her neck. 

"The doctor removed in it less than 20 minutes. I’ve had it more than 10 years," she said. "I’m so happy, I don’t have this thing disturbing me anymore."

As she headed over to the clinic's lifestyle section to get a massage, Martinez, of Arleta, said she never had the money to have the tumor removed. She is uninsured because she is in the U.S. illegally.

Organizers say they are prepared to provide services to about 10,000 people. They expect most of those coming to be uninsured or to be insured but having trouble affording deductibles, copays or coinsurance.

Phena Howard was getting a pedicure in the lifestyles section of the cavernous clinic after she saw an eye doctor. She has a cataract and she wanted it checked.

"I need to have surgery," she said. "They gave me all the information. I came because I wanted to see if it had gotten worse."

Howard, of Los Angeles, said she has Medi-Cal but she doesn't really use it and isn't sure it would help her with her eye problem.

There are more than 4,300 volunteers at the clinic, called Pathway to Health. About 2,500 of them are doctors, dentists, nurses, dental assistants and other medical professionals and they will provide over $30 million worth of free services over the course of the three days, said Pathway to Health spokesman Costin Jordache.

The Seventh-day Adventist church and partners that include Loma Linda Medical Center organized the event. This is the first Pathway to Health clinic in Los Angeles. Others have been held in San Francisco, San Antonio and Spokane.

Over in the eye area Eduardo Zavala was trying on frames. He came from Anaheim with his sister Tuesday night.

His job provides basic medical insurance, he said, but that does not include eye care or the blue frames he picked out.

"I’ve needed glasses almost my entire life, but I’ve been low on money," he said. "I had them once but those broke and I have not been able to replace them."