Care Harbor Offer of Free Medical Care Attracts Thousands

Blankets wrapped around her shoulders and a packed meal in her hand, 29-year-old Andrea Adams, a South Los Angeles resident, spent several days in the cold and the rain, waiting for the doors to open at the Los Angeles Sports Arena where she would receive a wristband that would give her access to the 5th annual Care Harbor Los Angeles free medical clinic. Unemployed now for two years, Adams has been looking for an opportunity to have her braces removed and to receive necessary dental work. As she looked at the line, snaking its way around the Sports Arena, she shook her head.

“Jobs are hard to get,” she said. “You can’t take insurance for granted. This has really opened my eyes for sure.”

[raw]Thousands of people such as Adams braved the elements—some enduring the discomfort of two days on blankets and chairs waiting on the sidewalk—for a chance to receive free medical, dental and vision care at Care Harbor Los Angeles, which was held from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.

At Care Harbor, hundreds of doctors, dentists nurses and other volunteers provided free healthcare, prevention resources and follow-up care to thousands of uninsured, underinsured and at-risk individuals and families. No one with a wristband was turned away.[/raw]

Although the wait for wristbands was long, it is worth it for many who have not seen a doctor or dentist in years, said Howard Kahn, chief executive of L.A. Care Health Plan, a major sponsor of the Care Harbor event.

“A lot of folks are willing to wait a long time to get care,” he said. “What is striking is the diversity. You see young and old, working and not working, white, black, brown. The need is there.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office is co-sponsoring Care Harbor, said that the event relies on people volunteering their time to help and demonstrates how a community can come together to aid those in need.

“Care Harbor reminds us that Americans can pull together and compassionately, share their ingenuity, skills, expertise, time and money, to help those who are less fortunate,” he said.

Enrique Sanchez of East Los Angeles spent a night in line as well. Initially he hoped to get a wristband for his mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair and who needs dental care, but he thought he should also try to get one for himself, for dental care and to have a doctor look at his bad back.

“I hope to get insurance one day,” he said, noting that he was unemployed. “But for now, this is a good opportunity to get some help.”

Janet Willison and her 9-year-old daughter Lana hoped to get medical treatment for an injury. Although Lana had spent the night at a friend’s house, Willison had been in line for a day, waiting for wristbands for both of them: Lana needed to see a doctor to repair an injury she received after a ball hit her right eye, and Willison, needed a mammogram and pap smear, and to have her blood pressure checked.

“My eyesight is really bad,” Lana said, adding that she had to ask her teachers to be seated in the front of the class in order to be able to see well.”

Willison, who is a realtor in South L.A., said she and her husband had recently lost a vending machine business, making it very difficult to afford healthcare coverage. Although there are news reports about the economy turning around, Willison said she continues to see struggling.

“I deal with a lot of people losing their homes. It has been a very tough year,” she said. “I understand. After a while, you lose your pride and you do what you need to do for your family.”