Care Harbor LA 2015: Los Angeles Helping Its Own

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Care Harbor LA 2015 transformed the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena through Sunday into a mega-clinic that provided much-needed healthcare – for free – to about 4,000 uninsured, underinsured and medically underserved people from all over Los Angeles County and beyond.

“There is no better way to showcase what is best in America than by coming together, rolling up our sleeves, and providing healing to our communities,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during a press conference to kick off the event.

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“The Affordable Care Act has made healthcare accessible to hundreds of thousands of people but Care Harbor still has a very important role to play,” he added. “These doctors and nurses, dentists, optometrists and volunteers help close the gaps remaining in our healthcare safety net – gaps that leave the uninsured, underinsured, working poor and unemployed with no place to turn for the most basic of healthcare services.”

The Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, Care Harbor, annually organizes free urban health clinics on a massive scale. This year’s event was made possible by grants and resources from Supervisor Ridley-Thomas; L.A. Care Health Plan, the nation’s largest publicly operated health plan; Tzu Chi Medical Foundation; and assistance from more than 50 organizations and 3,100 volunteers.

“With the help of our generous community, Care Harbor comes back for a fifth consecutive year,” Care Harbor founder and president Don Manelli said. “Each year, the Care Harbor clinic adapts to the rapidly changing health care landscape to ensure we are providing relevant care to those who need it most.”

In 2014, more than 1.3 million people in the County were uninsured, including about 500,000 residents not eligible for any public health coverage due to citizenship status. Some of them get help through the County’s My Health LA program, which provides care even to the undocumented, but many others go without – until Care Harbor LA 2015.

“There are countless reasons why thousands of people are drawn to clinics like Care Harbor every year,” LA Care Health Plan CEO John Baackes said. “Whether they are insured, underinsured or uninsured, it’s important to acknowledge that they are taking action to improve their health – and that we are here to provide the care they need.”

“Here, we witness Los Angeles helping its own – indeed helping anyone seeking help,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.

During the four-day mega-clinic, health professionals provide:

  • free medical care, including specialty care;
  • dental care, with extractions, partial dentures and crowns;
  • vision care, including prescription glasses;
  • immunizations, including flu, t-dap and shingles;
  • screenings for oral cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV;
  • mental health counseling (new for 2015); and
  • extensive educational presentations and exhibits to promote wellness, self-care and healthy lifestyles.
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Credit: Care Harbor and Sally Ryan Photography

In order to be treated, patients must wear one of the wristbands issued last weekend at Ted Watkins Park and the Sports Arena. They received care from private providers, organizations and volunteers, as well as the County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health, Public Health and Public Social Services. Those needing follow-up care were connected to local low-cost clinics after Care Harbor LA 2015.

Robert Rummler, Jr., 39, was among the first patients to arrive. He came at 4 a.m. seeking a professional dental cleaning,  still wearing the same prescription eyeglasses provided by Care Harbor two years ago.

“If it weren’t for Care Harbor, I probably still wouldn’t have glasses,” he said. “I don’t have insurance. I work part time and don’t get a lot of hours.”

“It’s a great thing,” he said of the free mega-clinic. “Its great for people who need attention but can’t get it because they don’t have the money or resources. I hope they keep doing this because there are people that need it even worse than I do.”

UCLA Pre-Med student Sherwin Toluie was among the volunteers escorting the blind to eye doctors.

“When I take their hand, they are very appreciative,” he said. “It’s nice to help someone who needs it. This is a great experience and I will be coming back next year.”

The Board of Supervisors recently proclaimed Oct. 15-18 as Care Harbor Week throughout the County, on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

He considers Care Harbor to be “Los Angeles County civic engagement on steroids,” noting it has provided $15 million worth of free critical health care and other services to over 30,000 Los Angeles County residents since 2011.

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