Alice Rainwater get her blood pressure checked by licensed vocational nursing student Alisa Humphrey as part of a free health care service at the Care Harbor clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
Julio Rivera leaned back in a dental chair and closed his eyes. He hadn’t been to a dentist in nearly four years. After 30 minutes of intense cleaning, Rivera, 50, said his mouth felt completely different.
“Now I can smile,” he said.
Rivera and hundreds of other residents from throughout Southern California flocked to the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Thursday for a massive annual free clinic put on by Care Harbor. Patients received an array of health services, including blood pressure checks, mammograms, vision screening and HIV testing. They could also meet with specialists such as cardiologists and podiatrists.
But, like previous years, the demand was greatest for dental care.
This year there sre 100 dental chairs available for patients to receive cleanings, extractions, fillings and root canals -– up from about 80 last year. But dental hygienist Laurel Bleak said it still wasn’t enough.
“We try to do the best we can with limited resources,” Bleak said. “We could easily spend five hours on each patient.”
For the last five years, Anthony Medrano, 25, said he had been living with a chipped tooth, which hurt every time he ate something too cold or too hot.
Medrano, who is uninsured, said he couldn’t afford a dentist, and at one point considered pulling the tooth out. On Thursday Medrano came to the Sports Arena and finally had it fixed. Medrano said he just felt relieved.
The clinic, which is sponsored by L.A. Care Health Plan and other local organizations, plans to treat nearly 5,000 people over four days. The patients waited in line on Monday to receive wristbands, required for entry.
Care Harbor also increased the number of preventive services available for patients while they waited to see dentists or doctors. Patients could meet with counselors about quitting smoking or with nutritionists to learn about healthy eating. before they left they were connected to county and community clinics for follow-up care.
“It’s a temporary clinic, but it’s about more than temporary care,” said Care Harbor President Don Manelli. “They walk out of here better equipped to take care of themselves.”