America’s Largest Free Healthcare Event Helps Thousands of Uninsured

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Rebecca Krueger

Thousands of volunteers as well as thousands of patients in need of medical attention come together at the free health care event which was made possible by donations from various health care organizations and insurance companies.

Chris Rodd and Rebecca Krueger, Staff Writers

In perhaps the only place in the Western world where free healthcare is an event, 4,800 people lined up for hours at the LA Sports Arena on Sept. 24 for treatment that some have been putting off for years.

Since 2010, Care Harbor has organized annual weekend long events with the goal of providing needed care to the 2.2 million uninsured and underserved in Los Angeles County. It is the largest event of its kind in the country.

“We saw a need. Care Harbor is not just a destination, it’s a gateway. We wanted to do more than short term care, we wanted to take care of patients for the long term,” said Don Manelli, President of Care Harbor.

Services offered at the event included dental, vision, immunizations, health screenings, as well as a host of medical procedures. Other general well-being services ranged from mental health professionals to free yoga and meditation sessions. To ensure patients continual care, Care Harbor coordinates with community based organizations and local clinics to provide out-patient care.

“If you need a pair of eyeglasses and the optometrist sees you have some kind of retina problem that tells us you’ve got diabetes, we don’t want to send you home like that. We want you to get that checked out,” said Manelli.

While patients waited to be treated for their specific medical, they could explore different exhibits providing various health awareness programs. Exhibits supply services such as resume building, financial counseling, nutrition, and more. These exhibits would give free examinations to patients and help them find clinics near their homes for continual care.

“Prevention might be the most important thing we do because this is teaching them how to lead healthier lives,” said Manelli.

Organizations were invited to participate in an expansion of the preventative care campaigns, including anti-smoking and dental care education and disaster preparedness with the Red Cross.

The dental care section was by far the largest area, with 100 dental chairs and a dental lab on site. More than 60 percent of the patients were there for dental care. Of that 60 percent, 90 percent of cases could have been prevented by basic dental hygiene, according to Manelli.

Among patients receiving dental care were Delice Barnett, her fiance Richard Hall and their 3 month-old son Royce of Long Beach. Hall had his two front teeth chipped, with the nerve of his left tooth dangling exposed for over two years.

“He couldn’t eat anything hot or cold. He would always have to wait until everything cooled off,” said Barnett.

Dr. Káren Baghdasaryan of Glendale conducted the procedure using state-of-the-art equipment, giving Hall two veneers to make a perfect smile. According to Baghdasaryan, the price of one veneer ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. Hall received a nearly $6,000 procedure free of charge. Barnett also received dental care and there was a pediatric station to examine their son.

“This is one of the best moves we’ve decided to do all year,” said Barnett

“It’s been a long time since I could smile,” said Hall after the procedure.

Baghdasaryan, who has participated in Care Harbor since its inception and also does free dental procedures for underprivileged children, enjoys the work he is able to do through this organization.

“It makes me feel more complete to give back to the community, give back to people who otherwise could never afford this kind of treatment. And it’s fun, ­it’s like giving a present,” says Baghdasaryan.

There were over 3,200 volunteers, many of them nursing and medical students from USC, UCLA, Info Tech College, and the Western University of Health Sciences.

“We try to give back to the community, and you gain more experience,” said Warunsiri Kelly, USC senior majoring in dental hygiene.

In the future, Manelli wants to focus on expanding the efforts of the organization, including recruiting more medical professionals to volunteer.

“I always tell doctors this is as close as you’re going to get to the reason you went to medical school. It’s you and the patient. There is no insurance, you’re not fighting with the office manager. It’s somebody who’s in desperate need for what you know,” said Manelli.